Chapter 4 - Homecoming

The coach ride back to the Bakery was unpleasant. Ankh Morpork streets are not what one would call smooth under the most liberal definition, but generally people became used to the bumps and jounces of uneven cobbles and periodic holes. But in this situation, every jolt brought out a grunt or moan from Jonathon. More immediately and personally concerning, Myria felt a shooting pain in her head with every jerking movement, and was beginning to tire of the sensation. It made her want to use short and biting words in response to Jonathon's complaints, and she did not understand why her own discomfort should make her want to say things that she knew to unfair. The strain of holding her silence made her feel even more frustrated and upset.

As a result, she was very relieved when they finally reached the bakery. It was strange; it felt like a weight was removed from her body as she sighted the familiar building. It must have something to do with familiarity. Then she saw that there were two unfamiliar people standing outside the door, and some of that weight returned.

As they exited the coach, helping Jonathon down with some cursing on his part, she spared attention for the man and dwarf, who were clearly wearing some type of uniform. She frowned. The uniforms, I have seen their like before. Where?

The Captain.

A feeling of heat washed over her, especially in her face. Embarrassment, she labeled it. Followed by a strong feeling of guilt.

Unlike the Captain, these watchmen were heavily armed. And they were not smiling. Instead of truncheons, they had swords sheathed at their sides and were watching the trio exit the coach with hard faces. Their entire demeanor broadcast 'authority' and 'seriousness'.

As she and Susan helped Jonathon toward the bakery, the stocky human watchman moved forward to intercept them. Glancing between the three, he somehow settled on Susan as the one to address. Myria guessed that it had to do with Susan's demeanor. While Myria had an ingrained need to defer to authority, Susan's body language seemed to express that she considered the Watch to be more of a distraction rather than something to seek out or fear. [1]

The watchman placed himself squarely in their path, muscled arms cocked, elbows out, and his right hand resting lightly near the hilt of his sword[2]. "Begging your pardon, milady, might I inquire as to your name and business?" His words were polite, but his stance apparently hadn't gotten the memo.

Myria felt Jonathon start draw up as if to speak, and then wince and sag again. At the same time, Susan whispered, "Pray allow me." Without waiting for a response from Jonathon, she arched an eyebrow at the watchman. "What, no 'halt who goes there'?"

The watchman's expression darkened and his hand tightened at his belt. "Would that work better, milady?"

Susan matched his expression. "Not likely." Myria watched with some concern as the dwarf watchman, seeming to sense things were not going well, began moving closer to the group from her right. What is Susan doing?

"There you go then, milady," was the human watchman's response.

Susan straightened further, and Myria could feel her switching into what Susan would call her Teacher Mode. "My good watchman, I have an injured man here, and would very much like to get him into his own home. As for my name, I would be more than happy to provide it, after you provide yours and explain why you here at all, and why you are preventing a man from reaching his own bed." The watchman's face reddened as she spoke, and Myria saw a third watchman, this one a troll, come around the left corner of the bakery, and realized with a start that there were two more watchmen on nearby rooftops. Those two held crossbows, not currently pointed in their direction, but... I am becoming concerned. She admitted to herself. But I do not understand why. The situation should be resolving, not becoming more… tense.

By the time Susan had finished, the first watchman had reached maximum scowl. In the silence that followed he held it for a few seconds, realized it was not going to have any impact on her, and deflated slightly, clearing his throat. "I am Corporal Stroud, milady, and I have orders to let no one pass other than confirmed family members and those vouched for by them."

"Well that-" Jonathon began to answer, but Susan squeezed his arm. Myria could tell he was beginning to be frustrated as much with Susan's behavior as much as by the overall situation. And he was beginning to become heavy, which told her he was tiring as well.

"Marvelous," Susan smiled but there was nothing pleasant in it, "since this is Mr. Jonathon Knäcke, and we are his friends, there should be no issue then."

Constable Stroud relaxed slightly. "Thank you milady. One moment please." He turned to the dwarf. "Constable Thundergust, let the sarge know that we have someone here claiming to be Jonathon Knäcke with two friends," he turned back to Susan, "and if you please, milady?"

"I am Susan Sto-Helit," if he recognized the title, to his credit it did not cow him much, "and this is Lady Myria LeJean."

That revelation had an unexpected result. Both Corporal Stroud and Constable Thundergust stepped back as if struck, growing pale. Corporal Stroud actually placed his hand on his sword hilt as his eyes darted back and forth between the two women, finally halting on Myria. "You are Lady Myria LeJean, ma'am?"

Myria felt naked beneath the attention, but managed a small nod. "This is correct."

Without taking his eyes off Myria, Corporal Stroud made a small hand signal, and Myria noted with growing alarm that the crossbows on the adjoining rooftops were now pointing in their general direction, though still not quite at them. "Constable, belay that last order. Go to the Yard and tell the commander that Lady LeJean is here."

The dwarf hesitated. "But sir, shouldn't we tell the sergeant-"

The corporal's jaw worked, but he didn't take his eyes off of Myria. "That wasn't a request, constable." Shaking his head slightly, the dwarf turned and made surprising speed down Body Street toward Pseudopolis Yard.

Jonathon had had his fill. Working his arm out of Susan's grip with a grunt of pain, he stepped forward, swaying slightly. "See here corporal, this is my home. And I don't appreciate being treated this way. I have had the worst month of my life, including nearly being impaled today." He coughed and grimaced, "And my chest feels like it's been tap-danced on by a hippo."

"I understand Mr. Knäcke, but we still need to-"

"What is the meaning of this? Marjoram! Thank Levandus[3] you're alive!" This was from one of two people just exiting the bakery. Corporal Stroud stepped back, slightly confused. Who was she addressing?

"Mrs. Knäcke, you really should not be outside." He turned back to Jonathon, who was turning bright red. "And I thought you said you were Jonathon Knäcke sir."

"Oh bother," Aunt Rosemarie continued as she approached them. "Constable Stroud, this is my nephew Jonathon. He despises his given name." She made to reach Jonathon, and Stroud attempted to intercept her.

"Stand down, corporal. I'm sure it's fine." This came from the second person exiting the bakery, another dwarf.

"Yes sarge." Stroud reluctantly stepped aside, and Jonathon's aunt flung herself at her nephew.

"Gahhh! Aunt Rosemarie, my ribs!"

She extracted herself and saw how pale his face was. "Sorry dear. I'm just so glad to see you are alive. We so were sick with worry when we realized you had gone early this morning. So worried that we called the Watch." She cast a dark look at the corporal. "I didn't expect them to keep you waiting on your own doorstep."

The sergeant spoke up behind her. "My apologies, Mrs. Knäcke. Corporal Stroud may have been overly cautious, but I'm sure he had good reason for concern."

"Sarge," Stroud almost hissed, "that is Lady LeJean." Myria noted that the sergeant's reaction was not as dramatic as that of the first two, but the revelation still appeared to give him pause. The troll watchman on the other hand seemed barely aware of his surroundings and merely stared off into space.

"Ah." His brow furrowed for a moment. "Lady LeJean, I should inform you that the commander of the Watch has a standing order that were you found to be alive, you were to be guarded at all times and he notified immediately."

"I…" Myria considered the fact that there are two reasons to guard an object or person. The first was to protect it from harm or loss. The second was to protect others from that thing. Considering the reactions of the watchmen, she reached the obvious conclusion. "I see. Yes. I believe that I do understand."

This seemed to remind Jonathon's aunt of Myria's presence. She turned to her, more subdued. "Myria, it's good to see that you are alright as well. Jessica was very worried about you."

Myria found this to be the greatest surprise thus far, and for a few moments her expression looked remarkably like a fish as her brain attempted to reconcile the suffering Jessica had experienced because of her, with Aunt Rosemarie's statement. "Surely you must be mistaken, considering that her injuries were m-"

"Let's not get into that right now, shall we?" Susan interrupted yet again, pointing her chin at the watchmen before turning to face them fully. "Sergeant, may we take Jonathon inside?"

The sergeant seemed startled by this, then stepped aside and gestured toward the door. "Of course ma'am. We are only here for his protection." Myria filed this under additional confirmation of her prior suspicions regarding who was being guarded from whom.

"Good." Susan nodded to Myria and they got Jonathon, now even closer to dead weight, moving again. Aunt Rosemarie was already hurrying to hold the door open for them and preparing for some serious fussing.

They were just past the sergeant when he cleared his throat. "Er, one request ma'am."

Susan sighed and looked back over Jonathon's left shoulder. "And what is that?"

He at least had the decency to look embarrassed. The corporal on the other hand just looked bloody suspicious. "The commander will want to speak with Lady LeJean. Please ensure she does not leave the premises without notifying us."

Myria could literally feel the disapproval radiating off of Susan as she responded coldly, "I will bear that in mind." Which response, to Myria's mind, was not exactly an agreement.

The next few minutes were a flurry of activity. Uncle Pars met them at the door and took over getting Jonathon up the stairs and to his room. Jonathon did his part as well, stumbling and weaving and cursing under his breath with each step up and into his room, until he could collapse onto his bed.

As soon as they were all upstairs, Susan quickly rounded on Aunt Rosemarie, taking her by the sleeve and having some sort of quiet conversation with her.

Which left Myria, for the first time that morning, alone with her own thoughts for a few seconds.

Which was the exact length of time she was afforded before she received her third shock of the day in the form of being body-tackled by a young, thin, but happily animated teenage girl. Expressing, in no uncertain terms, that Jessica's Aunt Rosemarie had not been mistaken at all regarding her feelings about Myria.

For the second time in her very short life so far, Myria found herself weeping, and knowing exactly why she was doing so. She would not have imagined one could do so out of joy.

[1] The propensity of a Watchman to seek out the person in the group that will be least cooperative is similar to a well-known party phenomenon. As anyone who has ever seen an officer of the law show up at a party, it's practically a given that the most completely inebriated individual there, possibly wearing underwear on their head, will nominate themselves Official Spokesman for the group. The result typically involves long hours in a small concrete room with excellent security.

[2] The Watch had not yet discovered the joys of mirrored eyewear. If they had, he would have been wearing that too, and likely would have slipped it down his nose slightly to peer over it.

[3] The aforementioned God of Yeast and Other Things That Rise When Heated. Very popular among breadmakers.