Christopher stood at the door, waiting. So this was it. The big day. The one they’d been planning and preparing for months.
The day Lady Morgause’s trial was set to begin.
It was hard to get comfortable in here. Not so much physically comfortable — at this point in his career, he was used to being on his feet for hours while trials went on — but mentally comfortable. He was used to this. Big trials, “trials of the century” they were called, at least until the next one came along. When you were warden of Tower Prison, you learned quickly that today’s valiant defendant was tomorrow’s corpse and was the day after tomorrow’s pushed-aside memory. It didn’t do to get too excited. It certainly didn’t do to get an opinion, or to get attached.
And the thing was, in Glasonland, everybody understood that. Oh, sure, the spectators at trials got excited. They were always good for drama, and they were free. You couldn’t beat free entertainment. Christopher understood that. He wouldn’t go so far as to encourage it, but he permitted part of himself to enjoy the buzz, for what it was worth. At least somebody was having a good time, even if it was in the second-most morbid way possible.
In Albion, however … oh, the courtroom was buzzing. Just not in a good way.
They were nervous, these people. Even the King’s own son and daughter and daughter-in-law! They weren’t treating this the way the folk of Glasonland would. The men and women of Albion did not see this as a show, as a bit of entertainment one step above a play. They took it seriously.
It made shivers crawl up and down Christopher’s spine to think of it. Either this people were all so terribly, terribly naive … or they were wiser than he would ever be. Or both. Wise to know that in Albion, this was serious, naive to think such a state of affairs could last.
What was oddest, though, was that there were barely any commoners about. In Glasonland the place would have been thronged with apprentices, shopkeepers, laborers, beggars and whores crowding the aisles so that the gentlefolk could barely get to their seats. Here … there were only three in the upper gallery, not counting Mistress Ferreira, who was practically a noblewoman anyway.
Of the three, Christopher only recognized two, and barely those two. The wizard Emrys Christopher mostly identified by his clothing, and he never would have realized that the woman in the gypsy regalia was the midwife if she hadn’t given him a cheery hello and asked how Jason and Sandra were doing. As for the third … well, she was an older lady, and she kept looking at the jury box. Christopher’s best guess was that she was Master Chevaux’s wife.
As for the rest of the commoners in the kingdom … well, Christopher understood that this kingdom was still new, and there was always more work to be done than there were hands to do it. How else did the warden of the prison and the King’s own daughter get roped into helping capture a dangerous criminal? But the good folk of Albion can’t have had any idea what they were missing. The show of a century. They should have been here, if only to tell their grandchildren about it. Right now, the only commoners about already had grandchildren.
Although, now that he thought about it … how did the kingdom’s only midwife manage to escape having too much work to do to come? Professional precaution? he thought, eying the Crown Princess. Her belly was about the same size as Sandra’s when she got near to her time.
Bringing his eyes down to the main level sent them across the room, to the lawyers. They were both nervous. That wasn’t right.
He could understand the counsel for the defense being nervous more than the Crown’s. Defense counsels generally were nervous back in Glasonland. If you gave up on your client to save your own skin, the family might blame you when he was condemned. If you defended the client to the best of your ability … well, King Vortigern had yet to be foolish enough to execute a lawyer for doing the job he was hired to do. The King probably wanted to keep up at least the illusion of fairness and impartiality. But there had been a couple of cases where a lawyer after giving a particularly spirited defense was called in by the King’s Privy Council for a session of questioning that couldn’t have been comfortable.
The prosecutor, though? They tended to be the most cocksure, arrogant whoresons under the sun in Christopher’s experience. Today, though … well, it was Sir William’s first major case. That would make even a cocksure, arrogant whoreson a bit uneasy, if he had half a brain. And Sir William, from what Christopher had seen, tended to get nervous before big undertakings. He’d paced like a caged lion as they waited in the woods for Lady Morgause to arrive.
And why shouldn’t the prosecutor be nervous if even the judge was squirming in his seat?
It was Lord Pellinore who puzzled Christopher the most. Lord Pellinore ought to know how it was done by now. He must have been older than older than Christopher when he left Glasonland, and he’d been a Crown’s lawman. He ought to know how it was done by now. So what if he was behind the bench now instead of in front of it? It was a change in roles, that was all. He was still on the stage.
But as Christopher watched, he saw Lord Pellinore start. Then he looked to Christopher and nodded.
That could only mean one thing.
The King, Christopher’s new King, up in his high gallery, must have given the signal to begin.
It was time to bring in the prisoner. Christopher nodded to the guard stationed next to him. The guard scooted out the door.
Everyone in that courtroom saw the guard scoot away. This was Albion’s first big trial, probably the first big trial some of the younger ones had ever seen, but everyone hushed instantly. Somehow they all knew what was coming.
And so when Lady Morgause entered, there were no whispered conversations, no creak of wood, no rustles of cloth to mask the gasps that arose from the assembled spectators.
Even Christopher had to do a double take. He wouldn’t say he knew Lady Morgause well, but he’d seen her every day she spent in his prison and knew how she dressed. She favored tightly tailored black gowns that would have seemed too much on a girl of twenty. (The fact that she looked better than many girls of twenty in them just made it worse.) Her hair she wore half-loose and half-styled, like a woman trying to reclaim her maidenhood desirability while making it very clear that she had all of a woman’s wisdom. But now, in her dour (but stylish) widow’s gown and heavy headdress just like the Queen’s, she looked a different person.
She hesitated at the steps of the dock, closed her eyes and made the sign of the plumbbob over herself. She climbed the steps slowly, accepting the guiding hand of the guard who escorted her in with what looked like a smile of real gratitude. When she reached the top, she paused again, took another deep breath and closed her eyes. Then she stepped forward to the edge of the dock and laid her hands on the rail like a woman doing everything in her power not to hold it for dear life.
Oh, the citizens of Albion may not have come here for a show, but they were getting one.
“Lady Morgause,” rang out Lord Pellinore’s voice, sharp and ringing as a dropped gavel. So he’d seen through it, too, and was not amused. “You stand accused of the crimes of kidnapping and attempted murder. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, my lord.” Here she clutched her hands to her breast, and spoke softly but made damn sure she was heard. If nothing else, that should have tipped off everyone in the courtroom that she was acting. A genuinely frightened woman would have done one or the other — be soft or be heard. It took a lot of composure to act that well.
Lord Pellinore didn’t glare at her — he probably didn’t want to influence the jury — so he turned to the jury instead to give them their initial instructions. Christopher had heard it all before. How they were to be impartial, letting neither fear nor favor sway their decision. How they were to consider only the evidence that came before them in this courtroom and their own knowledge of what was reasonable. How they were to consider Lady Morgause innocent unless, in their eyes, her guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The only odd thing was that Christopher got the feeling that Lord Pellinore actually believed everything he said. And so would the jury.
Then Lord Pellinore turned to Sir William. “Prosecutor, you may begin your opening argument.”
Sir William didn’t answer; he only nodded, shuffled some parchment, and stood.
Christopher watched as he crossed the short distance between his desk and the podium in the middle of the floor. The prosecutor’s gaze was fixed in one place. Christopher followed the line of it, and saw the King’s daughter smiling hugely at her husband. And even Christopher had to smile at that. Sandra would be doing the same thing, if it was him.
Then Sir William turned to face the jury. He smoothed out his parchment, took a deep breath, and somehow contrived to look all six jury members directly in the eye.
“Lords, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he began. Christopher had known prosecutors to start out their opening arguments with blood and thunder, but apparently Sir William wasn’t that type. “I want to begin by thanking you for agreeing to partake in this trial and lend your honest opinions to it. I wish I could tell you that it would be a pleasant experience. But I am not going to start this case with a lie.
“The crimes with which we have charged the accused boil down to four simple words: kidnapping and attempted murder. The facts, too, are simple. The Crown alleges that Lady Morgause did lure young Thorn Michaelson away from his home and guardians one sunny summer afternoon. She made him false promises, took his little trusting hand in hers, and brought him to her castle. That is the kidnapping. Then, as soon as she had him secure, she subjected him to horrible, torturous experiments that came near to killing him. One of the witnesses for the Crown has confided to me that, in her private opinion, it is nothing less than a miracle that this little boy survived. That is the attempted murder.
“Some of you may wonder, ‘Murder? Surely, if she meant to kill this little boy, she could have done it quickly and certainly. Is not murder when one Sim kills another deliberately, with malice aforethought?’ That is absolutely true, but there is another type of murder, or rather, another way in which murder can be differentiated from manslaughter. This is when one Sim kills another during the commission of another serious crime. Take, for instance, a burglar who breaks into a home, intending only to take some goods and be on his way again. But the master of the house wakes; there is a fight; the master is killed. The burglar is as guilty of murder as he would be if he broke into that house with a knife and the intent to kill in his heart. So with Lady Morgause.
“You see, sometimes it is the practice of prosecutors to append a battery of lesser chargers to the greater, in the hopes that if the jury will not accept the greater, they may be brought to accept the lesser. I have decided against this course. There are only two things that might have happened: either Lady Morgause did kidnap this boy and came near to killing him with her experiments, or she did not. There can be no question of a lesser charge. If she got hold of the boy, it was through kidnapping. That being said, if she nearly killed him, it must be attempted murder. The only way she is not guilty of kidnapping and attempted murder would be if every witness I am about to bring before you is a liar. Every single one, in every particular.” He laid his hands on the podium and met the gaze of each jury member. “Remember that.”
Sir William looked back at his parchment. “You are probably curious about these witnesses. Though you will of course hear more about them when they give their testimony, I can tell you some things about some of them now. You will hear from the kidnapped boy himself, Thorn Michaelson. You will hear from Betsy Pelles, Lady Morgause’s housekeeper, who discovered young Thorn and whose quick actions almost assuredly saved his life. You will also hear from Lady Dindrane, Lady Morgause’s own daughter-in-law, who assisted Betsy Pelles in getting Thorn to safety, and who probably has the best theory of any Sim as to why Lady Morgause would commit such an atrocity.
“I am going to be very honest with you. After you hear all of this testimony, you will probably be shocked. You will probably be in disbelief. ‘How,’ you may ask yourselves, ‘can an educated, intelligent woman, a lady, the King’s own sister, a Sim who surely knows right from wrong, so lower herself as to commit such atrocities? How can a mother of three children and the grandmother of two, one child and one grandchild both very near in age to young Thorn himself, perform such cruel experiments on a child? Why would a woman who seems to have it all — beauty; brains; loving children; and a high, nigh-unassailable position in society — risk it all in the pursuit of youth and beauty, as we will prove?’ I can feel confident that you will ask these questions, because I myself am thoroughly convinced of Lady Morgause’s guilt, and I ask myself these questions nearly every night before I go to sleep. There are some mysteries that no Sim can solve.
“But at the same time, every reasonable Sim in this courtroom knows that these things happen. Sims cause other Sims irreparable, unforgivable harm for reasons that strike most of us as hopelessly inadequate, if not trivial. And yet it happens. And when you think about it — truly think about it — it makes a terrible sense. Sims kill others for lust, for jealousy, for money. Why not for youth and beauty? Who wouldn’t want the appearance, strength and beauty of youth combined with the wisdom of age? What Lady Morgause kidnapped and nearly killed for was not money, that can be spent. Not for lust, that will fade. Not for anger or hatred or jealousy, that can seize the soul but die away. She kidnapped and nearly killed for what many of us think of as the most precious good of all: immortality. It does not make it right. It does not, at an emotional level, make it understandable. But it makes a terrible, logical sense.
“And that is why I believe you will find Lady Morgause guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I am sure you will reach beyond your prejudices and preconceptions to see the logic, the truth of this matter. Lady Morgause kidnapped and, in my opinion, did her best to kill an innocent child in a horrific way. Lady Morgause is guilty as the day is long. That, and only that, is the truth you are charged to find.” Sir William shuffled his parchment and straightened it. “Sir Mordred, the floor is yours.”
It took Sir William next to no time at all to gather his parchment and begin to walk back to his desk. But Sir Mordred sat still as a stone. If he’d had nerves at the beginning of this exercise, they were gone now. He was waiting, watching, calculating.
Just like his mother.
He didn’t get up until Sir William was nearly level with him. Then Sir Mordred rose slowly and languidly as a house cat after a nap. Sir William cast a half-curious glance at the back of his head. Then Sir Mordred looked back.
There wasn’t a clash of steel when those gazes crossed, but for the way the courtroom sat up and paid attention, there may well have been.
With steps that were still slow and languid, Sir Mordred strode to the podium. He placed his parchment on the surface, but he did not even make a show of straightening it, shuffling it. Indeed, the parchment itself seemed to be the show. He turned his steely, piercing gaze directly onto the jury.
“Sir William has made a grand speech, just now, about the truth and logic and things of that nature. He has made a great deal out of his witnesses, his reasoning, his ‘things either happened this way, or not at all.’ He has even made a great show of honesty. The thing is, continuing in this vein of honesty, I am not going to pretend that this is a courtroom in some large country and that none of us have ever met before. This is Albion. This is a small land, sparsely populated. We all know each other. Some of us have known each other from our very cradles. So I will say this: I am quite sure that Sir William believed every last word of that speech.
“I, however, do not. And that is not just because it is my mother is the one accused of these heinous crimes. I do not believe it because I know things about these witnesses that Sir William has chosen not share with you.
“The fact of the matter is, none of these witnesses is as disinterested in this case as Sir William would have you believe. Indeed, I dare say he himself believes the witnesses to be disinterested. I will not fully detail my doubts about the veracity of these witnesses now. You will see it when they testify. But I can give you a brief sketch now.
“I will start with the boy first. Now, he is very young — not quite five — and since I know very well that more of you jury members are parents than not, I will not beat around the bush. We all know a child that young is certainly capable of lying. We all equally know that the odds of a child that young lying well enough about a story of this seriousness — a story examined by many learned, intelligent minds — are so vanishingly small as to be practically impossible. No four-year-old could create and sell such a story so well.
“But, ladies and lords of the jury …” Sir Mordred smirked. “Could not an enterprising, clever, thoroughly unscrupulous adult coach a child to tell and sell such a story? If the adult was one that the child trusted, the child may not even feel guilty about it — the child would be convinced that what he was doing was right, and thus would not be able to show the telltale signs of guilt that we parents often use in catching our children in lies. I have reason — ample reason — to believe that there is such an unscrupulous and and enterprising adult in this child’s life. And I have the opinion of an expert, a Churchman — Brother Martin of the Order of St. Consort — to back me up, as well as the opinion of one of His Majesty’s own watchmen. As you all know, if my mother is found guilty of these heinous crimes, my family will be expected to make reparations to the boy and his family. The amount — I believe for a crime like this, it would be ten pieces of silver or so — may not seem like much to some of you, but I trust that at least one member of this jury will understand just how much money this is to a family as poor as that boy’s.
“Then there is the matter of the former housekeeper, Betsy Pelles. I will be frank with you. There is bad blood between Pelles and my family. There have been vicious slanders and accusations leveled against my family by the Pelleses. These slanders would have surely been punished, but for my late father’s and my own mercy and tolerance, and protection for the Pelleses and their supporters at the … highest of levels.” As if his implication wasn’t clear enough, he glanced up at the gallery.
His gaze snapped back to the jury after scarcely a heartbeat had passed. “And now we come to my wife. My wife is … well, I will again be frank, because it will all come out anyway. Things are not well between my wife and myself. We have never been happy. Some of you jury members know that firsthand. Some of you, too, know to what lengths a desperately unhappy wife might go to in order to extricate herself from a marriage she now finds intolerable. If the rest of you remain unconvinced, I have the opinion of another expert, a wizard of high renown, to show you just how ridiculous, unfounded and indeed impossible her accusations truly are.
“And do you want to know something else, ladies and lords of the jury?” Sir Mordred smirked at the jury, and then at Sir William. “Would you like to know why Sir William puts so much emphasis on his witnesses? It is because without his witnesses — whom I am sure he believes — he has nothing. No case. He has not one shred of physical evidence.”
Sir William stared stony-faced at Sir Mordred. If he felt embarrassment — or fear — or anger, he didn’t show it.
“He has not even reliable medical evidence! Oh, his witnesses will tell you a very sad story about the shape in which they found the boy. But Sir William has no corroboration of that sad story. The only medical experts who looked at the boy when his wounds were still fresh were a sworn enemy of my mother, a woman so unreliable that even Sir William realizes her word cannot be trusted, and the boy’s own step-grandmother. By the time I or any medical witness I could find was permitted to have a look at the boy, his wounds had healed to the point where it would be impossible to tell what caused them. So, you see, Sir William, for all he talks about truth and logic and reasoning, has a very shaky case indeed.
“And there is another thing I wish to make absolutely clear.” Sir Mordred’s eyes narrowed. “Sir William may talk all he likes about logic and truth and reasoning. That it is because it is his job to prove the logic and truth of his case beyond any reasonable doubt. I do not have to prove my case beyond a reasonable doubt — which is lucky, since it is a logical impossibility to prove that a thing never happened or does not exist — I only have to prove that any sane, reasonable person would doubt Sir William’s story.
“So I come to my final point: all I must do is make you doubt. And if and when you do — and I think you will, for Sir William’s story, though I am sure he believes it, is more full of holes than Lotharian cheese — you must do your duty as jurors. You must put aside your prejudices for — or against — the Sims involved in this case. You must cast away all thoughts of currying favor with certain people for ruling a certain way. In short, when your doubts become too much for you, you must acquit!”
Sir Mordred’s final sentence rang from the rafters and came back to settle among them. He smiled and laid his hand down. “Thank you, ladies and lords of the jury. Your Honor, I am through now.”
“Thank you, Sir Mordred,” Lord Pellinore replied, much more calmly and evenly than Christopher would have if any man had just insulted his Coralie the way Sir Mordred insulted Lady Dindrane. “Sir William, if you will call your your first witness?”
“Gladly.” Sir William stood and did not even glance once in Sir Mordred’s direction. “The prosecution calls Betsy Pelles to the stand.”