26. Welcome to the Company of Fugitives

Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.

Valentine’s mood is mild, tranquil by the time he reaches the Ceralac townhouse. A good thing, too. When Valentine enters, he hears Penelope wailing — wailing — and Xardic shouting. Footmen and maidservants are flitting up and down the stairs with basins of water and smelling salts. Against his better judgement, Valentine heads for the Xardic’s library, which seems to be the site of a lively family meeting.

“Valentine!” Penelope moans in strong tragic accents. “At last! Do you know where your cousin is?”

“Which one, Aramil? No.”

“I might have known!”

“Well, yes, you might have.” He says, unsympathetically. “I was at the archive, studying. Last I heard he’d gone to a boxing match.”

Penelope hisses something into her handkerchief that might be, “Vulgar wretch!”

Xardic says, grimly, “Aramil has been arrested.” Valentine waits for further details. “For armed robbery.”

Valentine nods. “That’s unfortunate. Where is he? I suppose he’ll have to be bailed out.”

“It’s a serious matter,” says Xardic. “He’s being held on multiple felony charges.”

Penelope says through gritted teeth, “My son — my Aramil — a Shelawn and a Ceralac — would never do such a thing.”

“He was caught in the act,” says Xardic, “When they searched his quarters, they found more than 100 gold pieces worth of stolen goods.”

“It’s a lie,” says Penelope fiercely. “Xardic, I insist that you speak to the magistrate and get him released before he comes to any harm.”

Xardic darts a hard, desperate glance at Valentine.

Valentine tries a different tack. “Madame, you know Aramil better than I, better than any of us. But the evidence is strong. Something must have happened. I’m sure there’s an explanation. Let me go to him, find out the facts, get the story from him directly. I can see to his safety and comfort, as well.”

Xardic nods, relieved, says, “Penelope, Valentine is right. He’ll get the lay of the land, find out what’s best to be done tonight. He’ll return as soon as he has news. This has been a terrible strain. Let me send Sieia to you.” After some more bitter weeping, a few additional recriminations, Xardic and Valentine ease out of the room as Sieia tiptoes in.

Valentine and Xardic stand in the hall, conferring. “Where is he?”

“The jail in the old courthouse. It’s serious, you know. They caught that little punk red-handed holding up a coach-and-four in the red light district. It wasn’t the first time. They’d been following him.”

Valentine lets out a silent whistle. “That’s bad.”

Xardic mimics Penelope viciously, “‘My Aramil — a Shelawn and a Ceralac!’ For fuck’s sake!”

“Honestly, sir, if someone told me that one of my cousins held up a coach-and-four in the red light district, I’d assume it was Aramil.”

“Of course it was him. It’s precisely the sort of hare-brained thing he would do.”

“Where’s Marcus?”

“I couldn’t hold him. By now he’s probably down at the old courthouse, lynching his heir.”

Valentine nods. “That’ll help. Do you have any cash? I’ve got enough to tip a bailiff, but not to bribe a warden.”

“Here’s 10 GP. Send for more if you need it. I’ll see if the magistrate will see me tonight. He’s a friend. I may be able to learn something useful.”

When Valentine arrives at the courthouse, the night porter seems disinclined to chat with any further Shelawns. “No, I don’t know about any elvish chaps named Caramel,” he says peevishly through an observation slot. “I had enough trouble getting rid of the last one of you.”

“I’m sorry. That was my Uncle Marcus.”

“Uncle Dickus, more like.”

“I wonder. Marcus is a forgetful fellow. Did he neglect to oil the locks properly?” Valentine holds up a flask of gin and a silver piece.

“That he did, sir. I got nothing from him but bluster and abuse for standing here all night in the cold.”

Valentine shakes his head. “That’s not right. I don’t know how he expects to gain admittance without oiling the locks. I hope you’ll accept this apology on behalf of the entire Shelawn family.” The apology is accepted graciously, even greedily, and the night porter leads Valentine through the empty courthouse, down to the jail in the basement. It’s squalid but not crowded — it seems to be in use primarily as a drunk tank for Dwarfish laborers and stevedores. The night porter introduces Valentine to the officer on duty, saying, “Here’s a cousin of that young elf Caramel — the gentleman as was robbing coaches and such.”

The officer looks wary, tired. “Yes?”

“I’m Valentine Shelawn, sir. You have my cousin Aramil in custody. It sounds like he’s done something stupid at best.”

“Armed robbery goes far beyond stupid, young man.”

“I’m not here to make trouble, or to interfere with justice. The family is concerned. Can I go to him? I’d like to see to his comfort, whatever is appropriate.”

“A gold piece or two per day is usual, to assure clean linens and a hot meal.”

“Here’s for today and tomorrow, then. If necessary we can discuss it further once I’ve seen him.”

The officer nods, mollified, and leads Valentine down a series of narrow, dank corridors. “He’s not in the drunk tank. We didn’t dare leave him in with the rest of the population.” In a cell at the end of a long corridor, a bedraggled, mournful, sheepish-looking Aramil is lying on a cot under a dirty woolen blanket. The jailer withdraws.

Aramil sits up. “Valentine! At last!”

“Yeah, that’s what your mom said. What the fuck, Aramil? What’s this about? You’ve taken to the bridle-lay now?”

“It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“It sounds pretty bad. They caught you in the act, and found stolen goods when they searched your lodgings. By the way, thanks for waiting until I moved out to start fencing stolen property.”

“How did you get down here? They wouldn’t let my dad in — said it was too late for visitors.”

Valentine shrugs. “I know my way around prisons, and prison guards. I think that’s why Xardic sent me. There’s a system. You’ll get clean linen now, better food — there are probably other things. I’ll find out.”

Aramil looks up shyly. He’s fidgeting with the edge of the blanket. He looks tired, small, and very young. “What’s going to happen?”

Valentine sighs. “The charges are serious, Aramil. They’re not talking about bail. Whatever you did, they’re not treating it as a prank. I can tell that Xardic is worried — he might not be able to make it go away easily.”

“You know they searched me, took away my boot laces and such. So that I wouldn’t hang myself.”

“They always do that. Look, Aramil, I know it’s shitty, but it’s not as dangerous as it seems. They had the sense to give you your own cell. No one will dare touch you — they know you’re rich and well-connected. You’re tougher than you look, which is an advantage. Just keep to yourself and you’ll be fine.”

“You’re talking as if I’ll have to stay here.” Aramil sounds almost frantic.

“Don’t listen to me. I’m a pessimist, and I’ve spent my whole life in places like this. Xardic will know how to handle it — how to make this go away. You’ll probably be out in a day or two.” They sit quietly. Aramil looks truly wretched.

After awhile he says, “Valentine, I did it. I did what they said. Armed robbery. It started as a prank. Tullius lost a signet ring at play, and we came up with a scheme to hold up the other guys up and get it back. We didn’t want to tell Marcus or Xardic — it just seemed funny and cool. I planned it all and it went off without a hitch — we stole the ring back, and other jewelry, too. I figured out how to fence the other stuff.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Xardic said there was some kind of sting operation — that they’d been following you for awhile.”

Aramil gives a twisted smile. “The others stopped. I didn’t. I meant to. It felt really good, so I kept going. Remember how I asked you if you like to fight, and you said, ‘Yeah, dirty secret’? That was my dirty secret. I loved it — armed robbery. I loved it more than anything I’ve ever done.”

Valentine takes a long, deep, unsteady breath, laughs. “Don’t tell that to the judge, okay? Oh, fuck, Aramil, you really are in trouble.” He sees Aramil’s expression of terror and says hastily, “I’m sure Xardic will figure something out. I don’t think they’ll hang you, or send you to prison.”

“But the family — it will be awful. The shame. God, I’m so sick of it, of all the fucking respectability and shame. But they’ll never shut up about it. I’d rather go to prison.”

“Be careful what you wish for.” Valentine sees that Aramil really is sick with fear and shame. He pauses, catches Aramil’s eye. “Hey, cousin.”

“Yeah?”

“Have you met Inglorion?”

“No.”

“I have. You know what he said to me?”

“What?”

“‘The Shelawns are either civil servants or outlaws. Welcome to the company of fugitives.’”

Aramil laughs. “What the fuck?”

“He’s right. So, welcome to the company of fugitives.”

“When did you meet Inglorion?”

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you when you get out. Are you cold? Is that blanket going to be enough? I can probably talk to the guy.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“I should go back, tell Xardic and everyone that I saw you.” It’s actually hard to leave Aramil there, doing his best to look hardened and stoic. “I’ll come by first thing tomorrow, talk to the day shift, make sure everything’s arranged.”

“Stop fussing. I’ll be fine. You’re not the only one who ever did time, Valentine.”

He grins. “Fuck you, Aramil. They probably won’t dim the lights, so good luck getting your trance on.”

Aramil blows him a kiss.

When Valentine gets back to the townhouse, Xardic and Marcus are assembled in the library. “Come in, Valentine,” Xardic says. “I just got back myself. Let’s talk this business through.” Valentine joins the others by the fire, exchanges bows with Marcus. “Were you able to see him?”

“Yes. I saw the night officer, took care of his laundry and meals for the next couple days. They saw that he’s young and gently bred, so they gave him his own cell. He’ll be safe and well-fed, and relatively clean.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“I did.”

“What did he tell you?”

Valentine hesitates, glances at Marcus. However angry he was earlier, he looks impassive now. “He confessed to everything. As we expected, it started as a prank that got out of control. But, honestly, I think it went far beyond that. He told me that he planned and carried out multiple armed robberies.”

Marcus asks, “Are you sure he wasn’t just hysterical — feeling remorseful or bragging?”

“I don’t think so. I think he knows exactly what he did. It’s real, sir. It went on for months. He enjoyed it, found that he had a knack for it.” He studies Marcus’ face — grim, unyielding, with a kind of angry incredulity. “He told me that he tried to stop and couldn’t. He felt he had to do it.”

“No one has to commit a crime, bring shame on his family, rob people—“

“I’ve seen it before in troops in combat. It’s a certain kind of addiction, a need for excitement. It’s very powerful, and not at all simple. I’m not excusing anything he did. If anything, I’m saying the opposite. No matter what happens with the charges, this won’t go away.”

Marcus turns away as if dismissing Valentine. “Xardic, what were you able to find out from the magistrate?”

“I was able to track down both the magistrate and the prosecuting attorney — they were at dinner at their club. They have ample evidence to convict him. There was an investigation, a sting operation. They intend to press charges. It’s not something they can overlook, and to be honest, it’s not something I can overlook, either. He’ll have to plead guilty or stand trial.”

Marcus looks horrified. “That’s impossible — he’ll be ruined!”

Xardic says wearily, “Their intent was very clear. His actions can’t be covered up or justified in any way. He will be ruined. He ruined himself.”

Marcus says in a stricken tone, “If he’s convicted he won’t be able to hold property in Liamelia. No decent woman will marry him.”

“True.”

“We’ll have to find a criminal lawyer, start negotiating. There must be some recourse. The shame will kill Penelope.”

“I encourage you to research every possible avenue. I will do my best for him, within the bounds of my duty to the city.”

Valentine asks, “What if he pleads guilty?”

“They’ll offer him some kind of deal. Reduced prison time, perhaps exile and a suspended sentence.”

Valentine nods slowly. “Right now you think that’s the best we can hope for?”

Xardic says, “I don’t feel comfortable asking for anything more. The family will have to hire a defense attorney, work with the prosecutor and pray for mercy, just like anyone else.”

One thought on “26. Welcome to the Company of Fugitives

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