THE audience stood up in a shuffle. Somewhere in the back a thud announced a fallen chair and a woman cursed.A middle-aged man scurried into the room. The billowing blue robe hung off his shoulders like a sheet drying on a clothesline. The face above the robe was brown, weather-edged, and sun-dried like a raisin. Two enormously wide eyebrows severed his face, like two fat, hairy caterpillars. His jaw moved as he walked to the seat, as if he were an old, decrepit bull chewing cud."The Angel County of the Edge District Court is now in session," Clyde boomed. "Judge Dobe presiding. Be seated."Everybody sat.Clyde stepped toward the judge. "Case number 1252, Mars versus Sheeriles."Judge Dobe reached under his desk, took out a small metal bucket, and hacked into it. "All right," he said, sliding the bucket back in its place.William wondered if Kaldar was right and this was a circus."Advocates, rise," Clyde barked.The blond woman stood up and so did Kaldar.The judge's massive eyebrows crept up. "Kaldar. Are you the one speaking for the plaintiff today?""Yes, Your Honor.""Well, shit," Dobe said. "I guess you're familiar with the law. You hit it over the head, set its house on fire, and got its sister pregnant."A huge grin sparked on Kaldar's face. "Thank you, Your Honor."The blonde cleared her throat. "With all due respect, Judge, this man isn't qualified to serve as an advocate. He's a convicted felon."Dobe's gaze settled on the blond woman. "I don't know you. Clyde, do you know her?""No, Judge.""There you have it. We don't know you.""I'm here to represent the Sheerile family." The blond advocate stepped forward, holding out a parchment. "I'm a practicing Jurist in New Avignon. Here are my credentials.""New Avignon is in the Weird," Dobe said.The blonde smiled. "I've made an extensive study of Edge law for this case, Judge.""What's wrong with local talent that Lagar Sheerile has to go into the Weird to find himself an advocate?" Dobe squinted at the row of empty chairs. "Where is Lagar? And the rest of his kin?""He waived his right to appear," the blonde said. "The Code of the county gives him that right in Statute 7, Section 3.""I know the Code," Dobe told her. His eyes gained a dangerous glint. "I wrote half of it. So Lagar thinks he's too good for my courtroom. Fine, fine. Kaldar, this Jurist over there says you aren't qualified, because you're a convicted felon. You got anything to say to that?""I'm a convicted felon in the Weird and in the Broken," Kaldar said. "In the Edge I was only fined. Besides, the same statute also states that any Edger can serve as his own advocate. Since the matter concerns the communal property owned by the Mar family and I'm a member of that family, I contend that I'm representing myself and, therefore, may act as my own advocate.""Good enough." Dobe waved his hand. "Proceed."Kaldar cleared his throat. "The Mar family owns a two-acre parcel named Sene, consisting of land and the Sene Manor house."Kaldar passed the maps to Clyde, who passed them to Dobe. Dobe squinted at them for a while and waved his hand again. "Proceed.""On the seventh of May, Cerise Mar, Erian Mar, and Mikita Mar traveled to the aforementioned manor house and found Lagar Sheerile, Peva Sheerile, Arig Sheerile, and several men in their employ on the premises. Cerise Mar voiced a polite and a nonviolent request that they get the hell off our land, which was refused."Dobe peered at Cerise. "And you let it go why?"Cerise rose. "We're a peaceful family, and we let the court handle our disputes."The spectators guffawed. Dobe cracked a smile. "Come again?""They had rifles and we had riders," Cerise said.Dobe's silver-dusted eyebrows performed some sort of wiggling maneuver. "Noted. And why do you look like something an ervaurg stored for a lean day?""Tough day in the swamp, Your Honor.""Noted. Sit your behind down."Cerise sat.Dobe glanced at Kaldar. "So what do you want from the court today?""We want the Sheeriles off our property.""Fine." He looked at the blonde. "Your turn. Just to be fair, I'll bring you up to speed. I run a clean hearing, no long speeches. Don't quote me precedent, argue from the law. I don't give a pig's ear for precedent - they let any idiot be a judge nowadays."The blonde muttered, "No kidding," under her breath.Chuckles raised his head and hissed. His yellow eyes locked on the blonde. William smiled to himself. He'd seen that intense look before. He wore it from time to time. If he could crack the big cat's skull and search it, he would come up with one clear thought: How fast can you run?"You said something?" Dobe asked."No, Your Honor.""Good, then. Proceed."The blonde's lips stretched in a flat smile. "The property in question was legally sold to the Sheerile family by Gustave Mar. Here is the Deed of Sale and the Deed of Ownership to the Sene Manor and the land attached to that dwelling."She held up two papers. Clyde ambled over, took them to Dobe. Dobe squinted at them and waved the papers at Kaldar. "Looks good to me. And I don't suppose Gustave is around to dispute it since his daughter is sitting at the table.""We haven't seen him since that morning," Kaldar said. "But we'll find him.""That's fine and dandy, but meanwhile we have these deeds here. You got anything to say about this?"Kaldar looked down.The room fell silent.So that's it? William wondered. This was how it ended. She'd risked the Hand and raced through the swamp for this?"Well?" Dobe asked.Kaldar's dark head drooped. He rummaged through the tangle of his hair."Answer the court," Clyde boomed.Kaldar raised his head. "Your Honor, Gustave couldn't have sold Sene.""And why is that?" Dobe asked."Because this parcel was purchased by the Dukedom of Louisiana from Angel Roost County twenty-seven years ago under the Exile Relocation Act. It was subsequently awarded to an exile, one Vernard Dubois, who then became related to the Mar family through the marriage of his daughter, Genevieve Dubois, to Gustave Mar. As such, Sene Manor and its land constitutes a nontransferable Senatorial grant. It can't be sold, in whole or in part, only inherited by the exile's offspring. Since both Vernard and his wife had passed away, and their offspring, Genevieve, is missing, the parcel rightfully belongs to her daughter Cerise Mar. Even if Gustave did sign those deeds, his signature has no power. He doesn't own the parcel. Cerise does and she isn't selling."Someone gasped.Kaldar raised his arms, holding folded documents in a fan. "Copy of original Deed of Sale to Louisiana, signed and stamped. Copy of Senatorial Grant, with Genevieve listed as an heir. Copy of Gustave's and Genevieve's marriage certificate. Copy of Vernard Dubois's and Vienna Dubois's death certificates. Copy of Cerise Mar's birth certificate."He bowed with a flourish and dumped the papers into Clyde's hands.Dobe scanned the papers and cackled. It was a gleeful snide kind of cackle, and as he laughed, his eyebrows bounced up and down. "Blondie, you've been buggered."The blonde advocate's face twitched. "I want to examine the papers.""Examine all you want. I'm ready to rule. I love them when they're that simple, don't you, Clyde?""Yes, Your Honor."Cerise rose."The Sheerile family has one day to vacate the Sene parcel. If by the morning of the second day, they fail to do so, the Mar family can use whatever they've got to get their property back. If the Mars fail to handle the Sheeriles on their own, they may appeal to the Mire Militia for assistance. That's it."Dobe picked up his robe and scurried off.They had won the right to attack the Sheeriles, William realized. Now there would be a bloodbath."Show-off." Cerise slumped onto her chair. He read exhaustion in the curve of her spine."Oh, everyone enjoyed it. Let me have my fun." Kaldar patted her shoulder. "You don't look so good.""Just really tired," she said. "It's been a while since I slept. Or ate.""We should go home," Richard said."Yes." Cerise rose and immediately dropped back into her chair. "Emel."A man in a long crimson robe was making his way to them from the back of the room. He was dark-haired and very lean, and looked a bit like Richard, if you took Richard's face and stretched it a couple of inches. William riffed through his memory. Emel, her cousin, the necromancer who supposedly would eat a hole in her head over the fish on legs."Is there a particular reason you don't want to meet our dear cousin?" Kaldar gathered the documents. "He's a bit grim and smells like dead people, but he is family ...""William killed his eel." Cerise ducked lower, crouching by the seat.The four Mars stared at him. William shrugged. "It tried to eat me.""Emel will want money," Cerise murmured. "I can't handle that right this second."Kaldar jerked his head toward the door. "Go. We'll stall him."Cerise slunk from her seat, melting into the crowd. William tensed, but there was no way to follow unless he threw her cousins aside.Kaldar turned and stepped forward with a big smile. "Emel!"Emel looked a bit perplexed. "Cousin."They embraced.Kaldar winked at William over Emel's shoulder. Grandmother Az watched them with an affable smile."Congratulations on the battle fought and won." Emel's voice was surprisingly pleasant."Thank you," Kaldar said.Emel braided the fingers of his hands, in the manner of a pious priest. "Lagar won't leave peacefully. Kaitlin won't let him. Let me know if you need assistance. Officially I can't do anything - the Sect doesn't wish to be involved - but I can still pull some strings. And, hrhm, I myself am not without some modest skill."Kaldar nodded. "Thank you, Emel."Emel's face took on a mournful cast. "Speaking of needs. I've come to see Cerise. There is a certain delicate matter that I would like to discuss with her."Yeah, a delicate matter of the fish with legs who attacked random peaceful travelers in the swamp. William opened his mouth. Grandmother Az put her hand on his elbow and shook her head. He clamped his mouth shut.Kaldar nodded gravely. "I'm sorry, she left. But I'll do my best to give her a message.""I need to speak to her concerning a certain animal belonging to the Sect . . . Normally I wouldn't bring this up, but the Sect believes some restitution is in order.""Lost your pet, did you?" Grandmother Az snapped out of her reverie.Emel paled. "Why, Meemaw Azan, I didn't see you there ...""Serves you right." Grandmother's eyes blazed with fierce fire. The flow of the crowd around them slowed, as the audience sensed a new attraction. "When she was a little girl, you stole her dolls, stuffed dead things into them, and made them dance! What kind of a person expects a little girl to be happy with a stinky dolly that's full of maggots? What were you thinking?"Emel winced."I say it's right that she killed your eel. What kind of a pet is that for a respected man anyway? Couldn't get a dog or a cat. No, this knucklehead gets himself a bald fish with legs!"Light giggling pulsed through the crowd."Meemaw Azan - " Emel started but she cut him off."I don't care if you're a necromancer! Coming over here, all important, doesn't say hello to his granny. Too good for your family, are you, Emel? I know I brought my grandchildren up better than that. I think I'll have me a talk with your mother!"A spark of fear flared in Emel's somber eyes. "I should go," he said softly."It's for the best," Kaldar murmured. "I'll give Cerise your message."Emel bowed to his grandmother and took off toward the door amid the cackling audience.Grandmother Az put her tiny fists on her hips. "And don't you walk away from me, Emel Mar! I am not finished with you! Emel!"The necromancer grabbed his robe, broke into a run, and escaped through the door. Grandmother Az waved her arm around and poked William in the shoulder. "Can you believe that child? Well, doesn't that just sink my boat! And he was such a sweet baby, too."LAGAR pulled the boat to the shore, threw the reins on a cypress knee, and stepped on the wet grass. A lake of ferns rustled before him."Peva?"No answer came. He took a step into the ferns and saw a trail of broken stems leading away from a pine. A small bag of tracker's mix lay on the roots, the nuts and raisins scattered on the ground. Above it, a circular black mark, the kind a flare arrow made, glared at him from the pine's trunk.Peva had no flare bolts. The hair on the back of Lagar's neck stood on its end.He unsheathed his sword in a single fluid motion and searched the ground.Twin puncture marks, two wounds in the dirt, marked the spot by the pine root. Someone had shot at his brother and lived to retrieve the missiles. Unless Peva took them for his own.Lagar jogged to the edge of the fern field. Several stems lay broken on the ground. His gaze snagged on a bolt protruding from a cypress trunk. A green glyph marked the shaft. One of Peva's. Too low for a target. Besides when Peva aimed, he always hit. He'd shot to distract someone's attention from himself. Lagar crouched, pointing the tip of his sword in the direction of the bolt, and turned the other way.A large cypress blocked his view twenty feet away. He ran to the cypress, circled the bloated stem . . .Peva lay on his back on the ground. The blue tint of the bloodless skin, the rigid features, the brown stain of blood on the chest, it all rushed at Lagar at the same time and punched him deep into the gut, where the nerves met. He dropped to his knees.Rain came, drizzling the swamp with cold water. It plastered Peva's hair to his head, filling the dead eyes with false tears. A phantom hand squeezed Lagar's throat until it hurt.Lagar pulled his brother close and held him.