“You’d look better with a club.”
Shane made a face at that as they walked west on Pike. He had taken off his beaver in order to pull one section of the hat down—Brock didn’t blame him; tricorns were useless otherwise—so Brock had reached over to tussle his hair. Or what was left of it, now that Emma had cropped it for him.
They fell quiet as Shane put his beaver back on, and Brock decided to accept the silence. He knew his partner. Knew he was preparing himself for what lay ahead, so that he could muster some dignity to see him through it.
The Registry was up on the Ridge, south toward the docks. In easy reach of the slave market which, Brock supposed, was the point. All too soon they were walking up the steps to the old brick building and entering the foyer. A slave stood there, directing masters, mistresses, and their new property to the first of many lines. Shane followed behind Brock without a word.
It took nearly half an hour, but eventually they reached a desk where a thin, tired man presided. He didn’t even bother to look up. “Master’s name?”
“Brock Parr.” He spoke clearly but quietly, hoping not to attract the attention of any of the watchman who were stationed here.
“Do you have the paperwork for your slave or slaves?”
Brock handed over the documents Robin had given him. The clerk stifled a yawn as he unfolded the parchment. But suddenly his eyes widened and he finally raised his head. “This, this says that, uh, your new slave belonged to—”
The man’s eyes bulged. “Ah, excuse me. I’ll need to speak to a superior. If you two would be so good as to follow me?”
They obliged. Brock kept his eyes down; he had no desire to witness the actual inspections. And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen them before. Slaves of all races—with no regard for their age or modesty—stripped, humiliated and handled as if they were so much horseflesh.
He glanced over at Shane. His face was down too, and he wasn’t making eye contact with anyone specific. But, knowing him, his eyes had swept the room, taking inventory of everyone present. Brock had nothing but respect for Shane’s powers of covert observation.
At length they came to a private room. Brock made up his mind that they would remain there for Shane’s examination.
“Please, sit,” the clerk told Brock. “I’ll be back directly . . .” his voice trailed off as he bustled into another side room.
Brock plopped down on the bench, but Shane remained standing. Brock rolled his eyes. “Have a seat, Shane.”
But perhaps he had no desire to sit—that was like him. He would frown and scowl and pace if given half the chance. “Sit,” he repeated.
Shane folded his arms over his chest and cocked his head at him, as if trying to determine whether that was an order. He must have decided it was, because he sat down next to him without bothering to argue.
Brock put an arm around his shoulders. Shane stiffened, but didn’t resist—his usual reaction. It took a moment, but at length Brock felt him relax.
“I suppose the clerk was surprised to see Obsidian listed as my prior owner,” Shane said.
“I hope so. That should buy us continued privacy.”
He grunted. “That would be wise . . . did you spot the watchman by the north door?”
Brock frowned. “No.”
“It’s Will Talon.”
“Bloody hell.” He sat up straight and moved his arm back to his side.
Will might be a brother of the Watch, but he was no friend to Shane. “What’s a man of his rank doing here?”
Shane shrugged. “Probably minding the cadets.”
“Did he spot us?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Good. I’d as soon not explain ourselves to him—” he broke off as the clerk reentered.
“Ah, sir? Mr. Parr—I mean, Lieutenant Parr?”
“It, ah, it’s not that your documents are in question, however, we felt it best to verify the information with the temple . . . .”
“I understand. You’ve heard tell of Shane Corlisa and his trial?”
“Ah, yes, sir. It was quite the sensation.”
“Well, since Shane is sitting here beside me, you can see that Obsidian spared him. Would you send someone in here to, uh, handle all this privately? Eshkeri Robin Weaver requested that we keep the mitigation of his sentence quiet for now.”
The clerk swallowed again. He seemed to be turning the request over in his mind, searching for any possible problem that might arise from agreeing or refusing, and estimating the amount of blame he would be forced to bear in either case. “Eshkeri Robin Weaver?”
Brock nodded. “Yes. The high priest.”
“Yes, I see. Of course we will be pleased to accommodate your request, sir.”
“My thanks.” Brock nodded at him.
The clerk nodded back, wiped the sweat from his receding hairline, and bustled out into the main room.
“Was this your plan all along?” Shane asked, staring down at his hands.
“To win you some privacy by mentioning Robin? Yes.”
Shane turned to him and stared at him for a long moment, his dark eyes unreadable. “Thank you.”
Brock opened his mouth to respond, but closed it as he stared over Shane’s shoulder. The clerk was leading an older man, presumably an inspector, into the room, but a watchman followed close behind. It was Lieutenant Will Talon—the last man Brock would have chosen to witness Shane’s humiliation.
“Don’t thank me yet,” he whispered.