Ch. 44. Law and Order?

These madmen, or demons, or whatever they were, soon weren’t the only problem Lotye had to face. She had hastily grabbed as much of her belongings as she was able to carry in the pockets of her dress, ready to make a swift disappearance in the panicked crowd. Then she heard the whistling. Whistling was never good. She knew what it meant, she had heard it often enough before. The Guardians were moving in, coordinating their reinforcements with whistled signals and runners. Lotye was right. Only seconds later armed men dressed in green and gold uniforms streamed out of the streets and on the square. The best she could do now was to hide among the other people and then discreetly walk away. With a bit of luck, nobody would care about another woman in panic.

Inside the crowd, she had to struggle to stay on her feet. The people were pushing, shoving and lashing about with their elbows to get as far away from the strange, nude men with their claw-like hands. Nobody cared about the other people around them, had much regard for lives other than their own, most of them not even took notice of a rather small, fragile person like Lotye. And in the midst of this chaos, Lotye tried to keep a cool head. From her position, she could only see a glimpse here and there of what was going on in the square. The Guardians, out of their depth on how to deal with this situation. A raised sabre. Then, one of the lunatics simply vanished. “Ghosts!”, rose the cry all around her. The people started looking for the conjurer, the culprit. It was time for her to go.

Using the movements of the enraged and fearful crowd, Lotye managed to get close to one of the narrow side streets that lead to the square. The men and women around her were still trying to leave the square, whether they did so out of fear of the conjurer or because they, just like Lotye, could guess what would be the next step of the Guardians. They’ll simply hold everyone here and sort out the suspicious people. And then they’ll get a wizard and find the source of these damned things. Stupidly, that’s me. Nobody was too fond of having to deal with the forces of law and ending up in a prison cell somewhere and, knowing the people who had come here with her, Lotye was sure some of them had good reasons to prefer not staying in this trap. The Guardians did their best to keep the crowd in control, even if that meant that they had to use their pikes. But without their reinforcements, they couldn’t be everywhere at once. Wherever there was a small gap, the crowd pushed past the men in green and most of the time, the Guardians couldn’t do much more than shouting angry warning at the people. Amongst those lucky people was also Lotye, who, still in the cover of a larger group, now began to run along the street, nearly out of danger.

But this was the end of her luck. Not much further, a line of burly marines prepared to close the street. Other than the Guardians on the square who had been surprised by the situation as much as everyone else, these men were better coordinated and also had a rather uncomplicated task: To make sure that nobody left the area. Most people were already discouraged from continuing to run away by the pure sight of the military men standing across the road. Maybe some of them also thought that they now were in a safe distance from the conjurer on the square, not knowing that she walked right among them. But the wall of mariners wasn’t closed completely. There still were a few gaps and weak points and some people decided to take their chance, only for most of them to be driven back violently.

Lotye, too, felt the need to get as far away as possible. If she stayed here, she would go to prison and most likely for longer than the last time, that much was certain for her. I would have preferred a more subtle approach, but I rather take my chance than to be taken in again. So she only stopped for a very short moment to see where she would have the best chance before running right towards the mariners. There, to the right, between wall of a building and the first marine, was a gap, too small for a grown man and probably also too small for Lotye. But it would have to be enough. While the marine was dealing out a blow with the blunt end of his pike to the stomach of the guy next to her, Lotye ducked his head under his arm, pressed against the wall and ran. With an ugly sound the cloth of her right sleeve was torn to ribbons as she scraped along the wall.

“One has got through! After her!”, she heard behind her and felt a callous hand on her shoulder. A quick movement and it slid off again. She had to run faster. Up until now, she had been able to hide in the anonymity of the crowd. Now, she was a single target, easily visible. They would hunt her down. She heard shouts, the running footsteps behind her, the heavy boots of the marines and also the lighter steps of the trained Guardian runner. A loud whistle echoed through the street, but it wasn’t meant as a warning for her to stop. A second whistle came as an answer and it came from somewhere in front of her. So she used her next possibility to turn left, then right and left again. Past a lot of surprised and shocked looking people, Lotye ran, into narrow alleys and over small bridges, hoping to lose her followers. She didn’t dare to look back, but the whistling was still sounded through the air, she couldn’t tell where it came from because the narrow streets made it seem as if was everywhere. Soon she had no idea where she actually was, a problem her pursuers wouldn’t have.

Then it came as it had to come. Just as Lotye wanted to slow down a little bit, she spotted flying green coats again. But instead of behind her, they were now directly in front of her. The Guardians shouted and pointed at her, but Lotye didn’t care what they said. She just hastily turned around and ran back the same way she had come, only to find this street also blocked by a group of marines. In her despair, she saw only one way out. There was a small landing nearby and the canal was full of boats, small and big. With a leap much bigger than she would have thought herself capable of, Lotye jumped from the dock and onto a small boat tied to it. The boat wildly rocked up and down, she nearly stumbled and fell. I can’t stop now! I’ve nearly made it. She struggled up again, gathered the hem of her dress, took a run-up and jumped to the next boat. With the canal full of boats, it wasn’t even that hard to find a way to the other side of the canal. The bigger problem were the owners of the boats, who were less than happy about someone using their vessels as a convenient surrogate for a bridge. If they didn’t just look after her with a blank look of surprise in their faces, often followed by a stream of curses, they tried to catch her or to just push her into the water. Somehow Lotye managed to dodge most of these attempts, but they still slowed her down. A quick look over her shoulder told her that the surprise over her unexpected route had not stopped her followers. Three of them were jumping from boat to boat and were doing so more skilfully than her. They were catching up.

With her last breath, Lotye reached the other side of the canal and jumped onto the street. Behind her, she heard boots on the wooden planks of the last boat, much too close. She made one more step, but then she felt a strong hand close around her arm, pulling her back. She struggled to get her arm free, but it was of no use. “Stop it! There’s no point in running away any longer!” It was the voice of a man accustomed to authority, but Lotye had always had a problem with authorities. Forget it, I won’t go to prison. A swift movement and her elbow hit the man’s abdomen, making him gasp for air. A second blow and he toppled over and fell into the water of the canal with a splash.

She wanted to start running again, but she had paid too little attention to her surroundings during the fight. The two other men had caught up to her and the rest of the Guardians simply had taken a different way over the canal and were now also closing in on her position from all directions. Lotye tried to find a gap, a way out, but there was none. She tried to escape the trap by charging right towards the men. But they didn’t give in. Lotye fought like an animal trapped by its hunters and more than one of the men had bloody scratches on their arms afterwards. But ultimately, she wasn’t strong enough. They had her, grabbed her wrists and made sure she couldn’t move. “Argh!”, she cried out. No, she thought, damn it!

“Get her into a cell! Make sure she is guarded appropriately! I think we got ourselves a fine suspect here!”

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