Authors: Salvador Mercer
“Thank you, Titus,” Corwin said to his aide, who nodded and sat at a nearby table. The justiciar sat by himself on a chair on the actual stage, high above everyone else. He looked more regal in his blue and yellow uniform, with the badge of the justice attached over his heart. Only the duke could appoint someone to that position, and there were less than a dozen of them in the entire kingdom.
“The state will present its complaint,” Titus called out.
A man in fine clothes, with a bit of roughness to them, stepped forward. “I am Magistrate Galen of Moartown, and the charges presented against the accused include treason, murder, theft, larceny, and misuse and misappropriation of the crown’s resources.”
“That is ludicrous,” an elderly gentlemen shouted, standing from one of the crowded seats near the front. The entire hall was full with people lined along the back walls, standing. Guards were posted at the key entrances and locations within the hall to keep order.
“Who are you?” Justiciar Corwin asked.
“I am Lucius Ewellyn,” the man said.
“He’s an associate of the accused, Eric Bain, and hardly objective, my lord,” Magistrate Galen said, looking over his shoulder and giving Lucius a nasty look.
“We are not listening to the defense at this time,” Corwin said, looking at Lucius. “We will only hear the initial complaint so that tomorrow we may officially begin with the charges.”
“But my associate is under house arrest,” Lucius complained, bringing a subdued laughter from the crowd.
“What is so humorous about this?” Corwin asked.
“Allow me, my lord,” Galen started. “The accused was ill when he was brought to us by the Kesh.” The magistrate allowed his words to sink in for effect. The Kesh were not welcome in most societies and only loosely tolerated by those who either had to or, for monetary gain, were so inclined. The Kesh paid well for their services. “He had no companions and no servants at his abode, and so was taken to one of the local pubs where he often frequented. That is where he is located at this time.”
Corwin nodded, understanding the humor. “Fine. Can we move on, then?”
“But he is under arrest, and bail was neither offered nor conferred,” Lucius complained.
“He’s under arrest for his own protection,” Galen shot back. “Several of the missing porters have family in Moartown.”
“Ah yes, that would explain much. The last case, I had a lynching mob nearly kill the accused before we could try him,” Corwin said, reminiscing on the ordeal.
“What happened to him?” Lucius asked.
“He was found guilty of murder and executed for his crime,” Corwin explained calmly, and Lucius turned red.
“Yes, a shame to have the accused killed before he can be properly executed,” Galen stated, nodding to emphasize his support of the justiciar.
“This isn’t fair,” Lucius stammered.
“Please, Mister Eweyllen,” Corwin said, holding a hand up to halt the man’s protests. “Your colleague will have his say in due time. We’ve traveled the better part of three days, and I’d like to retire for the night. We can discuss his bail, or lack thereof, tomorrow.”
Lucius saw he was getting nowhere and sat down, crossing his arms and glaring at the local magistrate, who tried to hide a slight smile and failed.
“As I was saying, my lord, before I was so rudely interrupted, the accused has a host of crimes for which he is charged, and since he has some friends and associates in town, I felt the need to recuse myself and call for a justiciar to settle the matter considering the penalty for most of the charges would be death.”
“Yes, I see why my services are needed.” Corwin nodded. “What arrangements have you made for the accused?”
“He is under arrest at the Peak Inn. I have ten soldiers guarding him. Two at his door and eight posted in pairs at each corner of the building. He is well protected.” The magistrate could hardly conceal his glee.
“Very well, let the record show that the accused is facing high crimes against the state as well as the people of Moartown and that he shall stand trial tomorrow at noon. We will adjourn for the evening.”
The hall was immediately plunged into a cacophony of discussion as everyone started to talk at once. Lucius glared at the magistrate and left, disgust obvious in his posture, and he was followed by Diamedes, who met him outside in the cooler night air.
“One moment please, if you don’t mind, Master Ewellyn.” Diamedes ran up to the man who turned to face him.
“Who are you?” he asked abruptly.
“I am Diamedes, a historian of sorts, and I wish to ask you a few questions regarding your associate, if you don’t mind?”
“The Master Diamedes?” Lucius asked, raising a brow and leaning in for a closer look at the small man dressed in a simple robe.
“Is there another?” Diamedes asked.
“I presume not, but what would the greatest historian Agon has ever known be doing in a backwater town like this?”
“You don’t approve of your hometown?”
“I tolerate it,” Lucius said, allowing the venom in his words to come out. “Now, even less so, but we all can’t make a living in the civilized parts of the world. Someone has to do the dirty work.”
“While this is not the same as the central realms, or even the heartland of Ulatha itself, I can assure you that you are still a far ways away from uncivilized,” Diamedes said.
“Pardon my rudeness, but don’t lecture me, historian. I’ve been to the savage lands and know what’s out there. I think current events have soured me on this place.” Lucius softened his tone immediately, realizing with whom he was just insulting. The long lived were favored by wisdom, and Lucius was no different from any other man.
Diamedes held up a hand to calm the man. “No offense taken. In fact, I wanted to assist you if I could.”
Lucius narrowed his eyes now. The offer of assistance wasn’t expected, and there could only be ulterior motives at play. “Go on,” he said.
“What is the main issue with your colleague?” Diamedes asked.
“You mean as in why these charges are being brought against him in the first place?” Diamedes nodded, and Lucius continued. “Well, he has had something of a rivalry with the magistrate, as he has brought in more wanted criminals and thieves than the local authorities. That achieved his dream of having his mercenary group recognized by the nobles, at the cost of not a little bit of jealousy by other groups and the local arm of the law.”
“I see,” Diamedes said. “So do you have counsel for your partner?”
“No.” Lucius sighed. “The only counsel of any note is used to defend drunks and petty thieves. He has no experience with something of this magnitude, and indeed, the entire town hasn’t had a good trial in decades and at least a few good years since they witnessed an execution of note. No, too many people are looking forward to this, and I seriously doubt anyone else can be convinced to take the case. Why, are you interested?”
Diamedes shook his head. “No, I don’t interfere in history. I simply record the facts. However, I can assist where facts are involved. That is part of my duties as defined by the crown. Is it true that he consorted with the Kesh?”
Lucius rolled his eyes. “No, they brought him here as if he were an old friend, saw to it that he was cared for, and then left just as abruptly as they arrived.”
“So he has never worked with them before?”
Lucius paused for a moment, pondering the question before answering. “Not really.”
“That doesn’t sound convincing. You best discuss this with him before noon tomorrow. The justiciar will want to know about his past when assessing his actions. Is he all right? I heard he was injured.”
“Yes, he is fine now. A bit banged up, but he was healed and is recuperating. He’ll be able to speak on his own behalf.”
“Very well,” Diamedes said. “During the trial tomorrow, I’ll be sitting nearby. If I motion for you, call for a recess, but be careful. You will only have three the entire trial, so don’t waste them.”
“What do you have planned?” Lucius asked, eyes narrowing again.
“That depends on what your colleague says,” Diamedes responded.
“You worry me, historian,” Lucius said honestly.
Diamedes nodded in approval. “If your friend’s life has any worth to you, then you should be worried.”
The next day dawned early with the customary chill in the higher mountain air. The town was up late the night prior, discussing the case, and the usual rumor mill was in high gear that night. The arrival of the justiciar gave a sort of solemn legality to what would have otherwise been a mockery of their justice system, given the players involved.
The session started late in the morning when it was almost high noon. Eric was feeling much better and marveled at the healing power of the Akun cleric. It was most unnatural, and despite having used healing potions, herbs, rituals, and other things to aid in his recovery in the past, nothing quite felt this way. He almost felt ten years younger.
“Ready, Eric?” Lucius asked.
“I guess so,” Eric responded, picking up and then putting back down the walking stick that was set next to the bed for him. He felt that he would need it the day before, but this day, he felt as if he could almost run, if not fly.
The guards accompanied them to the hall and had to clear a path to the side door. It was standing room only, and the crowd spilled out into the street. There were murmurs at the sight of Eric, but no one yelled or screamed anything nasty at the mercenary leader. The presence of the Ulathan royal guards in their shiny chainmail, brightly colored cloaks, and gleaming steel weapons were unlike most things seen in the small town. They had serious faces and brooked no foolishness from anyone.
Once the parties were all present, Corwin came in through the backstage door and took a seat. There was no call to rise, as everyone was already standing. When the justiciar sat down, those with chairs did the same.
“Call to order,” Titus said in a loud voice from behind his scribing table. “Are you ready, Magistrate Galen?”
“I am,” Galen retorted, giving a sideways glance at Eric, who remained standing behind one of two tables set out for them.
“Who represents the accused?” Titus asked.
“I do,” Eric said, his voice clear and commanding despite the circumstances.
“We’ll let the record show the accused is self-defending,” Titus said, writing something down on a sheet of parchment in front of him. “Ready, my lord.”
Corwin nodded. “Eric Bain, leader of The Hunt. Do you wish to hear the formal charges against you?” The title was the best Eric had earned in his entire career, and the fact that he had any title at all was remarkable since he was not nobility and had no official government position.
“My associate, Lucius Ewellyn, informed me last night of the charges. I waive a formal reading,” Eric said, repeating what Titus had told him to say only five minutes earlier. Most charges were done this way as the time of the most intense emotion for the victim’s family was during the reading of the charges. This was a simple formality, and Eric had no stomach to hear the word
and his name associated in the same sentence together.
“Magistrate Galen, the floor is yours,” Corwin said, giving the man a slight nod.
“Thank you, Justiciar Corwin,” Galen said, walking to his assistant and pulling out a small pouch and walking over to Titus. He pulled out a necklace with what looked like a family emblem. “I call upon the widow, Mrs. James Tolk.”
A woman dressed in a brown dress, but with a black armband on her right arm, came forward, assisted by an elderly man. She took a seat at the base of the stage and wiped away tears from her face.
“I understand that you’re the wife of James Tolk?” Galen asked not the least bit delicately considering her state of sorrow.
“So typical,” Eric whispered to Lucius, who sat next to him, both men having taken their seats once the beginning formalities were taken care of. Lucius nodded but said nothing.
“I am,” the woman said.
“State your name for the record,” Galen prompted.
“Julie Tolk,” she said.
Galen held up the necklace with the emblem token attached to it. “Do you recognize this charm?” he asked.
Julie nodded. “Yes, that is James’ family crest, the Tolk crest.”
“And it belonged to him?”
“When was the last time you saw it, prior to today?” Galen asked.
“James put it on when he left with that man.” She pointed at Eric. “Just over a week ago.”
“Is this something valuable to your man, or to you and your family?” Galen asked. When she simply nodded, he continued. “So it’s not something that he would give up willingly, correct? I mean, it has more than simply monetary value. It has sentimental value, correct?”
“Talk about misleading a witness.” Lucius could contain himself no longer, having stood and made the outburst.
“You are not permitted to speak. The accused represents himself.” Galen turned and gave Lucius a glare.
“I spoke last night,” Lucius responded.
Corwin held up a hand at the magistrate and then looked at Eric. “May your associate speak on your behalf?”
“Yes, my lord,” Eric said, placing a hand on Lucius’ arm.
“Magistrate Galen, perhaps a pause in between questions will suffice?” Corwin said, looking at the man.
Galen glared at both Eric and Lucius, an act he had become quite proficient at the last couple of days. “Very well, my lord. Can she answer my question, then?”
Corwin nodded at the witness. “Go on, Mrs. Tolk, or do you need the question repeated?”
“I’m fine,” she replied. “The necklace is only made from silver, not worthy of note for your nobilities, but it has been in the family for several generations and it is very dear to us and especially James.”
“So he would not part with it willingly, would he?” Galen asked.
“No, he wouldn’t,” she responded.
“Let the record reflect that Mrs. Tolk identified this charm”—Galen held the item up again—“and that it was discovered in a pouch of the accused’s belongings by his bedside.”
A murmur went up from the crowd, and Corwin had to use his guards to restore order by having them pound the ends of their short spears onto the wooden floor, making a large noise and gaining everyone’s attention.
“Quiet now,” Corwin ordered. “Do you have anything else for the lady?”
“No, my lord,” Galen said. “We’ll be giving the family charm back to her when the trial is over.”
“Very well. Call your next witness.”
The widow was escorted back to her seat in the hall, and the magistrate called on the owner of the Peak Pub and Inn, Frankel. The old man walked up and took his seat, avoiding eye contact with Eric.
“State your name,” Galen ordered.
“Frankel,” the man said.
“Just Frankel?” Galen asked.
“Yes, owner of the Peak,” the man said, looking uncomfortable.
“Master Frankel, please tell us the circumstances under which the accused was brought to your establishment four days ago,” Galen asked.
Frankel shrugged, looking sheepishly at the magistrate and then finally at Eric, and his facial expression saddened. “Master Eric was brought to my establishment by three of the Kesh and their servants.”
More murmurs in the hall, but no one tried to stop them. “Go on,” Galen prompted.
Frankel’s shoulders shrugged and then sagged as in defeat. “They paid top coin for the best room and service for Master Eric and . . .”
“Continue,” Galen prompted, not having the least bit of sympathy for the old man’s inner struggle.
After a long pause, Frankel finished. “They called for a death worshipper to heal him.”
Gasps in the crowd, which had to be somewhat contrived. Everyone had either actually seen the cleric when he was in town or had heard about it. Still, the actual testimony was chilling, and Corwin allowed the outburst for a full minute.
Galen didn’t hesitate. “You allowed the death worshipper into your establishment?”
“What?” Frankel looked up in surprise and shock. “No, well, I mean, the Kesh insisted, and I tried to call the local healer, but they wouldn’t allow it. They demanded their own healer.”
“So the Kesh treated him as one of their own, did they not?” Galen asked.
“Well, not exactly—”
He was interrupted by Galen rather quickly. “They gave orders for his best care, paid top coin, and insisted on their own healer. Does this not sound like they were working together?” Frankel shrugged, not answering and dropping his gaze to the floor. Galen went in for the kill. “Isn’t it true that the accused is known to frequent your establishment and that he often did so with a Kesh in his employ?”
Frankel looked up, his eyes darting to and from Eric and the magistrate. “I’m not sure he was Kesh—”
Another interruption. “Tall, swarthy, and with a metallic staff? That sounds Kesh to me,” Galen said.
“They’re all tall and swarthy-looking,” someone yelled from the audience.
“Enough,” Corwin yelled, and his guards repeated the stomping gesture with their spear butts. The hall was plunged into silence, not so much in fear of reprisal from the justiciar, but more in fear that he would empty the building and conduct the trial in private, and no one wanted to be blamed for that.
Once the hall settled down, Galen repeated his question. Frankel answered, “Yes, he looked Kesh, though I am not sure.”
“I’m done with him,” Galen said.
“Lord Corwin.” Lucius stood, addressing the man. “There is nothing illegal in dealing with a Kesh.”
While Lucius stood on solid legal ground, the common opinion amongst mostly every inhabitant of Agon was that the Kesh were tolerated at best and not to be trusted. The fact that they used magic and that this was mostly unknown to the other realms bred not only mistrust but a certain amount of jealousy as well.
“Correct, Master Ewellyn,” Corwin stated, “but the association is suspect nevertheless.”
Most everyone in the audience nodded in agreement with the justiciar. Eric placed a hand on Lucius and brought the man back to his seat. “Not now,” Eric said to him. Lucius nodded.
“I only have one last witness,” Galen said.
“Go on,” Corwin commanded.
“I call on Miss Mary, servant at the Peak, worker of owner Frankel.”
“No,” Eric muttered under his breath.
“It’ll be all right,” Lucius said, trying to sound reassuring, and failing.
Galen waited as Mary walked up and took a seat. She fidgeted a bit and looked at Eric with the same look as old man Frankel, which was to say not so good.
“Miss Mary, you work for the owner of the Peak Pub and Inn, do you not?” Galen asked, skipping the opening formality this time, and Eric didn’t know any better to object.
“I do,” she said.
“And were you not instructed by your employer to provide services to the accused during his recovery?” Galen continued.
“Yes,” she said.
Galen seemed to revel for what was to come next. “And during your time of service, did the accused not request a weapon of some kind, specifically a sword?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Lucius blurted out.
“No interruptions, please.” Galen gave Lucius a sideways glare. “Answer the question.”
After a few seconds’ hesitation, Mary said, “Yes, he wanted a sword, but that is quite normal considering his line of work.”
For some reason, Galen didn’t interrupt her and allowed her last remark to stand. “Wanting a sword is normal for a mercenary, yes, but not someone who is honoring his house arrest.”
“I didn’t know I was under arrest.” Eric stood this time, and Lucius didn’t try to restrain him.
“Silence,” Corwin commanded. “You’ll have your turn to speak. In the meantime, allow the magistrate to finish his presentation.”
Eric sat, face red with anger. Galen seemed to notice and suppressed a smile, turning to Mary again. “So, you also stated that the accused frightened you when he regained consciousness, did you not?”
Mary stammered and looked at Eric and then back to the magistrate, who stood patiently waiting for an answer. “Well, not really—”
“Must I call the guards who witnessed what you said to his associate in the hallway?” Galen pressed.