“I’m afraid I don’t understand … I thought I was going to be seeing my daughter?”
If Ambrosius had been a Sim and not a servo, his eyebrows might have gone up. He might have smirked. He may have even smiled. He could have reassured Lady Claire, or he could have modulated his tone to make her more worried. But he was only a Servo. He could only pick his words. Except by adding pauses and emphasis, he could not change how they would sound. His voice always came out in the same even tone and pitch. His face was always a blank mask.
But he at least had his words. Like a drowning Sim, he would cling to the one branch he had. “Your daughter will be happy to see you after the King has spoken with you.”
There was the rub.
“I am not at liberty to say,” Ambrosius replied. She would never be able to tell whether he was being sympathetic, or annoyed, or impatient. Perhaps then it was only fair that Ambrosius could not, in turn, quite tell how she reacted to that statement. A glance over his shoulder told him that her shoulders slumped and she chewed her bottom lip — gestures he had learned, over these past twenty years, generally denoted nervousness — but what that meant on Lady Claire, he had no idea. She was often nervous.
In any case, he had no time to ponder it, for the door to the King’s study was ahead and he could do nothing else but push it open. “Lady Claire, Your Majesty.”
“Thank you, Ambrosius.” If Ambrosius had been a Sim, he would have wanted a voice like the King’s. Slow and rolling, golden and clear like honey when he wanted it to be — and as fast and dangerous as a mountain stream when that was what the King desired. It was a perfect instrument. No wonder he was a man of such rank. “Lady Claire? If you would have a seat?”
Ambrosius took that as his cue to retreat to the bench behind Lady Claire and Lord Pellinore. Lady Claire, meanwhile, gingerly sat.
“I hope you’re well, my lady?” the King began.
Ambrosius saw the lady’s veil bob up and down as she nodded. “And — and yourself, my liege? My lord?”
“Quite well,” the King replied for both of them. “My lady, since I am certain you are eager to see your daughter,” Lady Claire both sat up straighter and seemed to relax at that, “I will come directly to the point. I have a great favor to ask of you.”
“Of me?” the lady squeaked. “Is — oh, Lord — is it Gwendolyn?”
“No, no,” the King soothed. At least, Ambrosius thought it was soothing. The tone and gestures were very similar to the way he would have calmed his children after an injury or an insult. “She’s as well as ever. I … I ask the favor for the realm, you see.”
“The — realm?”
“You’re aware of the recent … troubles with Lady Morgause?”
The lady’s veils shifted and swayed as she tilted her head to the side. “Of course, my liege.”
“But not too much aware?” Lord Pellinore asked. “You’ve not had your opinion of the matter too much swayed one way or the other?”
Lady Claire looked at him, then again at the King. To Ambrosius’s eyes, the King very swiftly had to hide an annoyed expression — or at the very least, an expression that more often came out around Sir Bors than around his wife.
“I … I don’t think so?” Lady Claire asked. “I — I mean, well, everyone — has heard so many conflicting accounts … I don’t know what to think …”
“That is actually a good sign at this juncture, Lady Claire,” replied the King. “It means you are still keeping an open mind. Which is …” The King sighed. “I will be brief. Lady Morgause is shortly to be put on trial. I would like you to be part of the jury.”
Ambrosius could tell nothing of Lady Claire’s emotion. Her back was a perfect blank. He wondered what her face might say … Lord Pellinore’s was inscrutable as he watched her, and the King only allowed a faint hopefulness to cross his features.
But when Lady Claire finally spoke her thoughts, her feelings were impossible even for one such as Ambrosius to misunderstand: “Me?”
One corner of the King’s mouth turned up. “Aye, you.”
“But — but I’m a woman!”
A faint twitch of the King’s lips. Long years had taught Ambrosius that this was the King’s way of holding back a smile when mirth would be inappropriate. “Indeed.”
“Women can’t serve on juries!”
“Indeed,” Lord Pellinore sighed. “In Glasonland they cannot. However, circumstances being what they are …”
“What the good judge means,” the King interrupted, shooting Lord Pellinore a certain glance that Ambrosius had only ever heard described as a look, “is that … well, you are aware that all persons accused of a crime are entitled to have their case heard by a ‘jury of their peers,’ are you not?”
Slowly, Lady Claire’s veil bobbed up and down.
“Now, ‘peers’ is a rather difficult word to define from a legal standpoint,” the King continued, lightly, evenly, as if he were discussing the state of the weather or an odd yet interesting fact one of his men had passed onto him. “Does it mean only, ‘another citizen of Glasonland’? Or another citizen of a similar rank to the accused? After all, you’re aware that noblemen in Glasonland don’t sit on juries for crimes of which commoners are accused and vice versa.”
Again, the veil moved up and down.
“Now, the traditional number of jurors is twelve. Which is not a difficulty in Glasonland, considering the number of noblemen — to say nothing of the number of commoners! But in Albion …” The King sighed. “I’ll be honest with you, Lady Claire. It’s not going to happen.”
“N-no, I can see that,” murmured Lady Claire.
“So Lord Pellinore, Sir William, Sir Mordred and I decided to get a bit … creative. A smaller jury — six Sims — was a must. But since Lady Morgause will not have the full complement of twelve men to decide her fate, we thought, why not populate the jury with her peers as well as we might? That brings us to you, my lady. You are, like Lady Morgause, a noblewoman. You too have a connection to the royal family. You know just what pressures she faces. And, perhaps most importantly, you have no close connection to the accused, or the prosecutor, or the accusers.” The King sighed. “You have no idea how difficult it was to find someone who fit all of those criteria.”
Lady Claire didn’t, but Ambrosius did. Lady Claire was the only Sim the King, Lord Pellinore, Sir William and Sir Mordred together had found to meet all of those points.
“And … if you will permit me to say so, Lady Claire, you have always struck me as being, overall, a very sensible and level-headed lady, your recent … troubles notwithstanding.”
There was something in the set of her shoulders that even Ambrosius could realize was discomfort. “They said I was mad.”
“I never said such a thing.”
“You think — you think I could do it?”
This time, when the King’s lips twitched, the smile did not stay hidden. “We’ve known each other over twenty years, Lady Claire. You’re a patient and discerning listener. I’ve never heard you utter a hasty or ill-judged opinion. If someone were to lay all the facts before you — in a clear and unvarnished way, as they will be in the courtroom — I’ve no doubt you could find your way to the truth. To be blunt, you’re no fool. And to be quite, quite honest …” The King sighed. “I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know your daughter better over these past few months, and being surprised and gratified by her solid core of sense. She must have gotten it from somewhere, and Lord knows it wasn’t her father.”
For a second, Ambrosius thought that that selfsame daughter had snuck into the study — then he realized that the sound he heard was not Crown Princess Gwendolyn, but rather Lady Claire giggling.
“So,” the King interjected between the giggles, “will you do it?”
“Are — my liege, are you sure this is what you want?”
Lady Claire gulped. “And — my husband?”
“Will deal with it.” The King didn’t say if he knows what’s good for him, but even Ambrosius could hear it.
Lady Claire sat very still. “Yes,” she replied, finally. “Yes, I will.”
After some time discussing logistics, expectations for Lady Claire’s conduct, etc., Lady Claire was dismissed, and Ambrosius was sent to fetch the next prospective juror.
Lady Claire was searching for her daughter, and the next juror happened to be in the same room as the Crown Princess. However, as the highest-ranking Sim in that room other than the royal family, he had a seat of honor next to the Queen. Lady Claire scarcely paid her dues of politeness before taking a seat next to the Crown Princess. As for Ambrosius, he bowed to the Queen and Crown Princess, nodded to the rest of the assembled jurors-to-be, and turned to his target. “Sir Aglovale, the King will see you now.”
Sir Aglovale scarcely seemed to blink at the news, but smoothly he was up and bidding a polite farewell to the Queen and other ladies. It was not often that Ambrosius was grateful for his helmet of a face, but now, he was. If he had had a real face, he was sure it would have been all too easy for the Sims in the room to read it.
Another advantage to his not-face was that he could walk Sir Aglovale down to the King’s study while being completely lost in thought, and as long as nobody spoke to him and he refrained from walking into walls, no one could tell. He knew Sir Aglovale well, or at least, he ought to know Sir Aglovale well. He had supervised him in his duties for years. But Ambrosius barely knew him at all. This troubled him.
It was not that he was hard to read, though he was. Sir William and Lord Pellinore were both hard to read in their ways, and Ambrosius knew both better. And even being easy to read was not always a good thing. Sir Bors was quite easy to read; that did not make him easy or pleasant to get along with.
No, Ambrosius thought as Sir Aglovale greeted his father and the King, there was something … something … something not right about Sir Aglovale. And he was back to wishing he was a Sim instead of a Servo. A Sim would have figured it right out.
He continued to ponder the matter as the King explained to Sir Aglovale why he had called him here, away from his studies. Ponder though he might, he could get nowhere. If only he could pin down some simple, logical reason for his unease around the young man …
Even as he tried to that, though, he listened to the conversation. Sir Aglovale was not nearly as shocked as Lady Claire had been about the request. Perhaps it was because he was a man, and a nobleman, not a woman. However, he did cast a glance at his father. “My liege …”
“Isn’t Father going to be the judge?”
The King sighed. “Aye. He is.”
“And Dindrane is the main accuser.”
“She is,” Lord Pellinore agreed with a slight slump of the shoulders.
“And Father is the one who brought the case to you. Lamorak told me,” Sir Aglovale added to his father. “So … how can I be impartial?”
The King leaned back, eyebrows raised, fingers steepled. “Let us be clear. You are afraid that your opinion will be swayed by the fact that your father believes Lady Morgause to be guilty?”
“Majesty, I am not –“
“Pellinore, if you thought there was nothing in it, you wouldn’t have brought it to me. Hell, if you thought there was something in it but you couldn’t prove it in your mind, you wouldn’t have brought it to me. You think she’s guilty as sin, and I’m giving your son credit for being able to read you well enough to know that. So, Aglovale, I have a question for you. How old are you?”
Even Ambrosius could hear the confusion in the young man’s voice. “Eighteen, my liege …”
“Eighteen! A fine age! I remember when Tom was that age.” The King chuckled and rested his hands behind his head. “If I told him the sky was blue, he’d say it was purple with orange dots just to watch the veins in my temple throb. So, if you’re worried you’ll be swayed by your father’s opinion — don’t worry, I’m not.”
If Ambrosius could have smiled at that remark, he would have. He did not think even Sir Aglovale could keep a straight face in reply to that. “But, my liege,” Sir Aglovale asked, “that — that doesn’t make me impartial.”
“Ah! I haven’t gotten that far yet. Tell me, lad, you’re inclined to believe that your sister is telling the truth, aren’t you? That she’s not just making this up to get attention or spite her mother-in-law?”
“Well! There you have it, then!”
“… Have what?”
“An impartial juror. Your desire to believe your sister and your desire to spite your father should cancel each other out nicely. And your desire to please your king by finding out the truth ought to motivate you to be sensible and find the truth.”
“Well … my liege … if you’re sure …”
“And I am sure.”
“Then I suppose you leave me no choice but to accept.”
Master Richard Ferreira, who was called next, presented few problems for the King as far as convincing him went. He accepted the charge with alacrity. Ambrosius had to wonder why. He’d met Master Ferreira before, but never had much opportunity to study him. And a view of the back of his head did not help Ambrosius to determine his motives.
He would wager, though, that the King knew. The King didn’t smile like that unless the Sim before him was somehow fulfilling an inner expectation, and a cynical one, at that. Oh, well. Perhaps, if Master Ferreira got that barony he was so obviously angling for, Ambrosius would have more opportunity to study him and would thus find out what it was that drove the man.
However, if Master Ferreira was easy to convince, Professor Naomi Emrys was anything but.
She wouldn’t even look at the King after he asked her. Even Ambrosius could see her struggling to compose her features and her breathing. Finally the King had to ask, “Professor Emrys?”
She turned to the King and even Ambrosius saw the King wince at something he saw in her face. “You want me to confirm your summary judgement in taking her magic away? Is that it?”
“What? No, no. Of course not!”
“You’re putting a witch on trial. A defenseless witch on trial. Those kinds of trials generally only end one way.”
“Hardly defenseless,” Lord Pellinore grumbled. “Her son is one of the ablest counsels I’ve come across.”
“That is not what I mean, and you both know it.”
The King sighed. “Professor … I assure you, this is not a show trial. Nobody would be more pleased than I if Lady Morgause were to be acquitted. If I wanted this to be a show trial, I’d appoint my councilors as jurymen, tell them the verdict I want reached and be done with it.”
“You say you want her acquitted –“
“I didn’t say that.”
Silence. Even Ambrosius could hear the crackle of — something in the air between the King’s steely gaze and Professor Emrys’s normally more mild one. It carried the heavy, humid silence of the air before a thunderstorm.
“So then what do you want, Your Majesty?” asked Professor Emrys.
“I want my sis–I want Lady Morgause to have a fair trial.”
“If that is all you want, why take away her magic?”
The King sighed. “Perhaps you can give me credit for knowing my sister better than you do? Had we –“
“‘We’? Who is ‘we’?”
His eyes narrowed. “Had I not authorized the removal of Lady Morgause’s magic, then there would have been no locks in this country that could have held her. And I shudder to imagine what she would have done to her accusers once she escaped custody.”
The Professor snorted. “By that logic, you could remove an accused murderer’s hands and feet to prevent him from escaping and harming anyone else.”
“A regular lock ought to do for your run-of-the-mill accused murderer. Perhaps extra locks if he’s proven adept at escaping. Increased guards, that sort of thing.”
“You think rendering Lady Morgause powerless is the equivalent of putting an extra guard on her door?”
“No. For one thing, it’s far less likely to end in a dead guardsman.”
“You couldn’t have just removed her wand? Destroyed it, even?”
The King narrowed his eyes. “I’ve been told that witches and wizards under extreme duress have been known to … shall we say, improve their circumstances without the use of a wand.”
“My other sister.”
Professor Emrys snorted and looked away, and by that Ambrosius guessed the King had her.
“Furthermore, Professor, I should like to know what you would have done in my stead. After all, I’m told that when witches of the Light take it upon themselves to render those the Dark incapable of further harm, they don’t bother with a trial.”
“I am hardly the type to take justice into my own hands, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“I’m quite aware of that. In fact, from what I understand, most witches and wizards won’t move against one of the Dark on account of one little boy. You’re more inclined to wait until the one of the Dark has a whole estate, or county, or country under her boot heel.”
“You’d prefer that we strike immediately?”
“Frankly, no. But I would prefer that you keep in mind that as King, I don’t have the luxury of waiting until a witch of the Dark grows so powerful that I don’t have any choice but to strike quickly and fatally. By removing my sister’s powers, I’m giving her the same chance as any other Sim accused of these crimes to keep her life. Better than average, if you consider that fact that you — a witch, and a wise one, yourself — might be on her jury. You’ll certainly keep the other five jurors from voting “guilty” merely after hearing the word witchcraft.”
A pause. Ambrosius saw the King smile slowly — the kind of smile he gave in answer to another. “If I were to accept this duty,” Professor Emrys replied, “I would have one condition.”
“Condition?” Lord Pellinore sputtered. “My lady, you cannot have any conception of what being a juror means if you mean to impose conditions –“
The King held up a hand to his erstwhile Chief Magistrate. “Say on,” he replied to the Professor.
“That if — if — Lady Morgause is acquitted, you permit her powers to be restored to her.”
The King’s eyebrows went up, slowly. “Define ‘permit.'”
“Neither you yourself nor any of your agents will hinder any steps Lady Morgause or any of her helpers in restoring her powers to her.”
“You’re a witch of the Light and you’d let — no — assist a Dark witch in regaining her powers?”
“There are some things more important than Light and Dark.”
The King leaned backed. “I will permit you, Lady Morgause, and any helpers she may have to do what they might to regain her powers, provided that it does not run contrary to any other laws of Albion. And no, I shan’t make a law making such a restoration illegal. However — I make no promises for Morgan.”
Ambrosius could not see the Professor’s face, but he wagered he could hear her smile. “Your Majesty, I asked you to help me right a wrong by not hindering me. I didn’t ask you to work a miracle.”
That left two more jurors. However, only one of them was present that day. And of that one … he was the first to greet his king by dropping to his knees.
“Arise, Master Chevaux,” the King called. “For once, I’m asking my subjects for favors, not the other way around.”
The old man lifted his snowy head. “Yer Majesty?”
“Have a seat, my good man, I’ll tell you all about it.” The King gestured to the chair before him. Master Chevaux made his creaky way to his feet, but he looked askance at the chair — or rather, at Lord Pellinore, who sat next to the chair.
“Please,” asked the King. That was all it took. No man was subservient enough, or foolish enough, to remain standing when the King asked him to sit. Master Chevaux sat.
The old man cracked his knuckles for a moment, then hesitantly asked, “What — what can I do fer ye, Yer Majesty?”
The King sat back. “Tell me, Master Chevaux … between two old men such as you and I … you’ve been around the lane a few times, haven’t you? Seen much of Sim nature?”
“I should hope that a man with as many white hairs in his beard as I have ought ter have learned a thing or two, sire.”
“And I’m sure you have. I’ve heard naught but good reports of you and your wisdom, Master Chevaux.”
“I — I — I thank ye, sire.”
“That’s why I want you to serve on the jury for Lady Morgause’s trial.”
“I need a wise man on that jury,” the King continued, as if the poor old man wasn’t gaping before him in shock. At least Ambrosius thought he was gaping — the beard certainly looked a little lower than usual. “A man who isn’t so foolish so as to think that he’s seen it all, but who has seen a great deal for all that. And who has paid attention to what he’s seen. I believe that description fits you to a tee.”
“But — but, sire …”
The King tilted his head to one side in a mute invitation to continue.
“I’m … I’m jest a workin’ man, sire. I ain’t had no learnin’. And I — I don’t know nothin’ noble folks. There’s some that say …”
“Say what, Master Chevaux?”
“That — that those who are noble can do what they like against us common folk.”
“In some places, that is quite true,” the King agreed smoothly. “But let me ask you something, Master Chevaux. As a common man … would you want to live in one of those places?”
Master Chevaux looked in panic to Lord Pellinore, as if to ask for assistance.
“You don’t need to be afraid, Master Chevaux. I ask men their opinion in order to get it, not to hear what I want to hear. I’m more than capable of telling myself what I want to hear,” the King continued. “Just answer the question.”
“Ain’t — ain’t every place like that, sire?”
“I don’t know. I’ve not been every place. But tell me, Master Chevaux. Have you been treated unfairly while you were here in Albion? Kicked, cursed, abused like a dog by someone else for no other reason than that his blood is better than yours?”
“No, no, sire!”
“Would you like to be?” As Master Chevaux gaped in silence, the King added, “It’s not a trick question.”
“N-no, sire. No one wants that. No one sane, anyway.”
“And yet, as you so astutely pointed out, in most other places — most other places that you and I know about, in any case — that sort of abuse happens every day. And unless we — all of us — are on our guard, every day, that abuse might happen here. I am asking you to help make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Master Chevaux took a long time before replying. “Do … do ye want me ter find the Lady Morgause guilty then, sire?”
“Only if you think she committed the crimes of which she is accused. If you hear the prosecution’s case and are not convinced, then by all means vote her innocent. Abuse doesn’t just happen to the man at the bottom of the scale, you know.”
Master Chevaux nodded slowly. “That’s — that’s a heavy responsibility, sire.”
“I would not ask it of any Sim who couldn’t bear it.”
Even Ambrosius could hear Master Chevaux’s gulp in reply to that. “Then … then, Yer Majesty … it would be an honor, it would, ter help ye in this.”
“So that’s five,” remarked Lord Pellinore as Master Chevaux saw himself out.
“Indeed,” the King remarked.
“And that just leaves …”
For the first time that day, Ambrosius saw the King wilt. “Aye,” he replied. “Aye, I know. And if you don’t mind, Pellinore … this one I must handle alone.”