The sun was beginning to set when Bronwyn left the council building. The central tower, where Sallus’ office was located, cast a lengthening shadow over the forecourt of the building like a long grey finger pointing east.
For the first time in three years Bronwyn was at a loss what to do next. There had always been the work. The steady route through the eastern province had scheduled its own calendar for her. The journey through towns and villages punctuated her weeks, and delivering the mail, meting out justice, and acting as a counsellor and arbitrator had filled her time between journeys.
Now she had one message to deliver and she had been trying for a day and a half without success. Whatever bureaucracy had been implemented since her graduation had clearly reaped benefits in the city, but getting to speak to the council leader was much harder than it had been. It was much harder than it should be, in her opinion.
Bronwyn walked back to the inn where she had been lodging wondering what to do next. How long should she wait? How long would Sallus be unavailable. He had to show up sometime, didn’t he? It’s not like he just lay in bed all day.
That thought caught her attention, because it occurred to her that he had to lay in bed sometimes.
Bronwyn turned off the main street at the next corner and headed for the residential district.
Twenty minutes walk later and the city architecture had changed. Here the buildings were spaced out, brick built and glazed with small clear leaded windows. Each house was surrounded by stone or brick walls, and trees and bushes abounded. The homes were for merchants, visiting dignitaries and diplomats and of course, Mages of the council. Once upon a time the extended royal family, small though it was, also lived here, but those houses had been taken over by senior Mages since then.
Sallus would have moved into the main residence for the head of the council, and Bronwyn knew where that was. She hoped there had been no reason to change it.
The streets were darker now, and the lamps for the area had not yet been lit. Nearby houses offered the glow of lamps and fireplaces but Sallus’ house offered nothing. The white wooden gate in the wall was closed, but unlocked. Bronwyn let herself in, feeling only a little guilty about the boldness of her actions.
A path of paved stone cut a straight line through the neatly trimmed grass. Even in the deep shadow Bronwyn could tell the garden was well maintained. Everything seemed neat and carefully positioned. Bushes grew by the walls of the grounds and two tall trees in the grounds behind the house were just visible over the roof.
There was no light in the windows and no sign of anyone in the house, but Bronwyn pulled the rope hanging by the front door anyway. She could hear the bell ringing inside but no-one answered. Not even a servant. She knocked again, just in case but no-one came.
Surprised that not even a servant would be available to answer the door Bronwyn walked around the building. Maybe there was someone in a kitchen, unless Sallus had left the city for a time and no-one had told her. She grunted to herself. Why would they have told her? That would be helpful.
The back garden was the same as the front with neat lawns and tidy flowerbeds. There was no reply from the back door either, and still no sign of life.
She stepped back from the door and looked at the upper windows with her hands on her hips and sighed. There must be someone around!
A sound from the side of the house caught her attention. Maybe someone had just arrived home?
She hurried back to the front door, and collided with a figure in black who appeared out of nowhere in shadow.
She screamed in surprise. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you! It’s so dark here,” she said, with one hand on her heart.
“Traitor!” hissed the figure in a man’s voice. He shoved her out the way with one hand and ran to the back of the house, carrying something in the other.
“Hey! Who are you?! Stop! Thief!” Bronwyn shouted, jumping to the obvious conclusion. A quick glance up told her he had emerged from a window upstairs. A rope still dangled from the sill. Despite regretting the lack of firelight she turned to follow him.
Shadow moved within shadow at the end of the garden and the bushes by the wall were rustling.
“Hey, stop!” She shouted again, and ran across the lush grass.
The figure was halfway up the wall now. She heard voices behind her and turned. The figure must have heard them too because he paused and looked over his shoulder. Guards carrying torches spilled around both sides of the house. The glow of the flames came first and was suddenly swamped with shadow and movement as the soldiers appeared.
“Run!” hissed the figure the bush. He started to climb again but dropped the item he was carrying. He swore. “Run!” he repeated.
Bronwyn stooped to pick up the item as the figure in black scrambled over the wall and was gone. The guards rushed to Bronwyn. She turned round and triumphantly held up the package.
“It’s ok, I have it! He dropped it, but he’s getting away!”
The guards surrounded her then parted, and a Mage in a dark blue cloak stepped through the wall of men. He held out his hand. Bronwyn passed him the package.
“I don’t know if it’s broken-,” she began but was interrupted by the Mage.
“Name,” he demanded without looking at her. He began unwrapping the black cloth.
“I am Bronwyn of the Flame, a Guardian of the Peace, and I-“
The Mage finished unwrapping the package and held up something made of wood and brass the size of Bronwyn’s fist. The metal glinted in the firelight as he turned it.
“A Mage?” he said, examining it closely.
The Mage brought the thing back to the cloth and wrapped it up again. He met her eyes. “Arrest her,” he said.
As Bronwyn was led away a figure dressed in black watched from the shadows.