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THE PEOPLE vs. ABIGAIL BENNET
A Mara of the League Story
BY THOMAS M. KANE
In wartime, it is perilous to seek justice.
At age seventy-eight, retired lawyer Abigail Bennet might have left war and resistance to others. When enemy troops overrun her town and appoint insurgents loyal to their cause to keep order, she keeps her mouth shut to survive. But when the insurgents accuse a pair of youths of murdering a soldier, she speaks out to defend them. Up against an idealistic leader who must make a swift example of the suspects, Abigail’s impromptu courtroom battle holds lives, control of the town, and the right to a fair trial in the balance.
This is a stand-alone sequel to the early gunpowder-era political fantasy series, Mara of the League.
A knock resounded through the townhouse. I jumped, clenching Hiram’s hand with all my might. Then I sighed, set down my glass, and led my paramour down the stairs to the foyer.
Hiram held the lamp. Its light played over the sanded wood panels of the front door. I undid the lock with a wrought iron key. When I opened the door, I saw a man I knew as Mel Pratt outside. Mel’s dark eyes glinted beneath the wiry tufts of his eyebrows. His thin lips were set in a line.
My face hardened. Mel’s news, I thought, was clearly bad. Nevertheless, I welcomed his presence. If there was trouble, he was someone I could count on. He had founded the underground Dreamer movement in Crannock Dale, he had been the first to side with me when I called for an uprising, and he had pounded a militia soldier’s teeth in during the brief skirmish in which we had taken control of the town.
“Best you see for yourself.” Mel extended his hand toward the street. A two-wheeled cart stood by the curb, bathed in moonlight. The donkey hitched to it flicked its ears. A lumpy cylindrical object lay in the back of the cart, covered in burlap.
A putrid scent wafted on the humid breeze. I wrinkled my nostrils. “Who?”
Mel glanced about. Then he drew back the burlap. The corpse of a broad-shouldered man lay on the cart bed. Dried blood caked the man’s sandy hair.
I noted the man’s bowed legs—even in death, he looked the horseman. His gray silk shirt peeped from beneath his knee-length cotton jacket, and a sword hung from his belt. The traditional Waanling outfit stirred memories for me. I recalled the three-year stretch in my life when I had dressed in similar clothing. Above all I remembered the relief of being among people who understood my need for smooth fabrics and accepted it as normal.
Although I did not know the man well, I recognized him. “The Waanling messenger. Lieutenant Kan-Jochi. He brought us the news about Waan’s victory in the Bene Valley. I thought he was riding on to Red Falls. He said he was in a hurry.”
“He’s going to be late.” Mel re-covered the corpse.
A chill passed through my body. “What happened?”
“You know Tess Onslow, over in Varney Wood?”
I nodded. “With the cats?”
“Heh.” Mel wrinkled his nose. “That’s the one. She has a three-legged tom that’s missing, and she got it into her head that her neighbor Emma Durkins had stolen him. So, Tess went to have it out with Emma, and instead of taking the path around she walked through the woods along the stream. She found the lieutenant’s body in the water and came to our office at the town church to report it. I was there, so I responded.”
Hiram nodded. “It’s murder, isn’t it?”
Mel scoffed. “Cracked skull, but no other injuries. If he was going to Red Falls, he should have been riding east along the Gol-Road. Instead, he ends up in Varney Wood, three or four miles from any place it makes any sense for him to be. So, was he murdered? You tell me.”
I gazed at Mel. “Any sign of his horse?”
“None.” Mel frowned. “I checked both sides of the stream. If anything had been by there, I would have seen signs of it. Got sard-all else from my old man, but he taught me to pick up a trail. There were no tracks on the streambanks—not unless you count a few coneys.”
Hiram shook his head. “What kind of fool would kill a Waanling soldier?”
“I suppose someone might have killed him for his horse.” Mel shook his head. “A horse is meat. With so much farmland laid waste and so much grain going to the army, folks are getting worried about food. It could be this was no more than that. Maybe.”
I sighed. “We know this was more than a robbery. When we reclaimed Crannock Dale, we understood there would be a backlash. This is an act of defiance against the commonwealth.”
“I think so, too.” Mel drew a long breath and heaved it out. “It’s no accident they killed the bloke who’s announcing Waan’s victory. Someone’s sending a message. Someone’s saying, ‘this war ain’t over.’”
Hiram took a breath. “The question is, is it just some idiot, or is it an organization?”
“It barely matters.” I spoke in a hollow tone. “If we let them get away with this, others will follow their example. The next question is, do we investigate the lieutenant’s murder ourselves, or do we turn it over to the Waanling military constabulary?”
Hiram met my eyes. “I think we should catch the killer ourselves. Up until now, the Pure Men have trusted us to run Crannock Dale without supervision. If we call In Waanling military constables, they’re going to say we failed to keep order. Also, they’re going to treat everyone in town as suspects.
“We have to prove we can handle this. And, frankly, we have to give the Waanlings someone to blame. Otherwise Crannock Dale could end up like other towns—”
“I’m sorry, love.” Hiram lowered his voice. “All I’m saying is we need to put ourselves on the right side of this situation.”
“It’s a valid point.” I nodded. “Mel, do you agree?”
Mel nodded, too, and blew air through the corner of his mouth.
“Then we have a plan.” I steeled my expression. “We’ll take care of this ourselves. The first step is to figure out who killed the lieutenant. Preferably before the Waanlings notice he’s missing.”
I grew up in the woods of Maine, with bears as my closest neighbors. Got started writing by publishing supplements for role-playing games. While studying international relations in California, I took an opportunity to finish my PhD with a noted British scholar. I ended up living in England for twenty years and teaching at the University of Hull. Since then, I’ve returned to Maine and started publishing fantasy novels.
My latest book, The People vs. Abigail Bennet, is featured in this post.
My Mara of the League series is a tale of war, witch-hunts and palace intrigue which follows its protagonist’s life from childhood into her forties. Set in a fantasy world where galleons and gunpowder are new inventions, It draws on my twenty years experience researching international politics and strategy.
Links to Thomas’ website, blog, books, #ad, etc.
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/4ARxvJ
The Mara of the League books are available in e-book, paperback and audio formats. Get the complete series as an e-book box set and save!
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bzKWyj
Facebook Page: @thomasmkaneauthor
Stories and articles free with my monthly newsletter Metis! Visit www.thomasmkane.com to subscribe.
Join the conversation! Discuss the Mara series and other thought-provoking stories in the Facebook group Kane’s Coffeehouse. https://www.facebook.com/groups/211871796613331
Thanks, Thomas, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!