Somebody had scrubbed the little boy well. Christopher had to admit himself surprised. Wouldn’t living in a tree, out in the woods, make someone … dirty? Especially a little boy, who was formed by the good Lord Wright to attract dirt in even the most pristine environment?
But what disturbed him more than the little boy’s cleanliness were the shadows of scars he could see on his face, his arms, his hands. Christopher knew the accusations as well as anybody, but still he tried to rationalize those old injuries. Little boys attracted bumps and bruises as well as they attracted dirt. Hadn’t Christopher himself rarely been without some bruise or scrape or cut until he was well past puberty? Maybe … maybe somebody hadn’t …
But no, his mind wouldn’t accept that. Somebody had done something to this little boy. There was shy, there was nervous, and then there was the way the little boy’s eyes widened when he saw Lady Morgause, the little noise he made in back of his throat. Dogs reacted that way to a master who beat them. And in some ways, little boys had a great deal in common with dogs.
Sir William saw the little lad quaking, walked over and stuck his hand out to him. “Hello, Thorn.”
“Would you like to sit in the chair?” Sir William asked, nodding to the witness’s stand. “You know I have to ask you some questions.”
The jury couldn’t see Sir William’s smile, but Christopher did, and it made the father in him breathe a sigh of relief. “Well, come on, then. We’ll go up there together.”
Thorn didn’t reply in words, but he took Sir William’s hand followed him obediently to the stand. He didn’t relax, not really, until he’d had a good look around him. Something that the boy saw in the gallery made his body seem to uncoil and his breathing come easier. He even started to kick his feet a little after that, as a fidgety boy might once he was seated in a chair and foresaw that he wouldn’t be leaving him soon.
Next the boy had to be sworn in, and Sir William did it well, making him say the words but explaining them in a way a four-year-old might be able to understand. So there would be no doubt that the lad knew he had to tell the truth when he answered his questions. Whether he would or not … children of his age were still a bit fuzzy on the difference between right and wrong, truth and lies. That was always the difficulty of putting a young child on the stand.
Sometimes, though, you didn’t have a choice.
“Now, Thorn,” Sir William started, “I have to ask you some questions about the day you got lost and Lady Morgause took you away. I know it’s going to be hard for you, but will you do the best you can for me?”
“I know it’s silly,” Sir William smiled, “but you have to answer the question in words, not just nodding or shaking your head. That’s just the rule here. Can you do that, Thorn?”
“Thank you very much. That’s very good.” The boy seemed to perk up a bit at the praise. “Now, Thorn, why don’t you start by telling me how that day, the day you got lost, started? You don’t have to tell me what you had for breakfast or what you learned in school that day, but I would like to know what happened once you got home from school.”
“Me an’ Bran an’ Ginny did our schoolwork. S-sir.”
“That’s very good. What happened after that?”
“We d-did our chores.”
“And then what happened?”
“We …” Thorn squirmed. “We got ter go play. Bran went ter Master an’ Missus Brogan’s house, an’ Ginny an’ me, we decided ter play hide-and-seek.”
“Where were you playing?”
“In the woods, sir. B-behind the tree.”
“Were you afraid, to play in the dark woods?”
“No, sir! Uncle Ash has all the trees lookin’ out fer us!” Christopher jumped a little to hear that, but Sir William didn’t even blink. He did, however, ask the next question quickly.
“I see. Did you and Ginny play for a while?”
“And what happened that made you stop playing?”
“The – the lady came.” Thorn shifted, edged closer to the back of his seat. His gaze dropped to the vicinity of Sir William’s knees.
“The bad one.”
“Is she here in the courtroom?”
Thorn only nodded.
Sir William didn’t press for a verbal answer. “Can you point her out for me?”
Thorn looked up with a white face.
“She won’t hurt you,” Sir William said. “I promise. Nobody’s going to hurt you. We won’t let them.”
Thorn bit his lower lip.
“So Thorn, can you be a brave boy and point her out for me, if she’s here?”
Slowly, shaking, Thorn’s hand moved up to point to Lady Morgause. Then it dropped as if her very stare had the power to burn it.
“Let the record show that the witness pointed to the defendant,” Sir William said. Then, “Don’t worry about that; it’s grown-up talk.” He winked at Thorn, which made the little boy smile. “Now, Thorn, can you tell me what happened after you saw the lady?”
“She – she talked to me.”
“What did she say?”
“She … she said hello, s-sir. An’ then she axed me some questions. If … if I’d like ter come with her, because …” Thorn looked at his lap, kicking first one leg and then then next. “She said she had a puppy, an’ she was lookin’ fer a little boy to give him to. It’d have ter be a good little boy, who’d feed ‘im an’ walk ‘im an’ take good care o’ ‘im. She said I looked like that kind o’ little boy.”
That was … good. Very good. Anybody could see that the little boy was still disappointed about the puppy. Nobody in his right mind would coach a child to fixate on a puppy when he could win so more points with the jury by fixing on the trauma. It looked genuine.
“So what happened then?”
“I know it’s bad,” Thorn sighed. “Uncle Ash an’ Auntie Lyndsay told me. I know I shouldn’t’ve done it. But … but I went with her.”
“Where did you go?”
“She had a broom, sir!” Thorn looked up, some of his enthusiasm returning. “It went real fast! All through the air! She put me on the front o’ it, an’ whoosh! Off we went!”
“Where did it take you?” Sir William didn’t betray any impatience at having to repeat the question.
“What did it look like?”
Thorn frowned. “Big,” he said. “An’ brown. Not gray or white, like other castles. It was up real high, on a hill. An’ the lady flew her broomstick up ter a window. She opened it up an’ pushed me inside.”
“What part of the castle were you in?”
“A bedroom, sir. There was a real nice bed, real soft an’ comfortable. An’ there was a big wardrobe fer keepin’ clothes in, an’ a table with a chair, an’ a little toy castle in the corner.”
A little toy castle in the corner. That, combined with the big bed and big wardrobe, put him in Lady Garnet’s bedchamber. The jury ought to note that.
“What happened after she put you in the room?”
“She told me ter lay down on the bed. An’ I did, sir. But not before I axed about the puppy.”
“I see. What happened after that?”
Thorn bit his lip. “She … she looked at me real funny, sir. An’ then she pointed her finger at me, an’ said a funny word, an’ I couldn’t move no more! I was stiff an’ still an’ scared!”
“You couldn’t move? Did you try to move?”
“Aye! But – but when she pointed at me, it was like … it was like there was ice all over! Everythin’ was frozen. I tried ter get up an’ run but—but I couldn’t!” His jaw started to quiver at the memory.
“Could you yell? Could you call for help?”
Sir William cast a sidelong glance at the jury, as if to ask, Are you getting this? before he posed his next question. “What happened next?”
“She … there were a plant, sir, in the room. But it weren’t a nice plant. It were a mean one. It had flowers with white an’ black spots. An’ … an’ she put some gloves on her hands, an’ put the flowers an’ the leaves in a mortar, an’ she ground ‘em up, real little, with the pestle, like Auntie Lyndsay will do with some o’ the flowers in the garden when she wants ter cook somethin’ special. But it were mostly juice that came out o’ the flowers an’ leaves, sir.”
Sir William nodded. “I see. So what happened after that?”
The little boy shuddered and looked away. His eyes were closed tightly, his head tilted slightly up, as if he hoped to keep the tears from falling by making them work against gravity.
It didn’t work. One or two still managed to escape and trail down his cheek. Sir William didn’t say a word, but he did fish his handkerchief from his sleeve and give it to the little lad.
Thorn took the silk in his hand with wonder, running his fingers over and over the fine material. After a long moment, he raised a corner to his cheek to dry it. When he looked up at Sir William, Sir William was still smiling. “Are you ready to tell us what happened next?”
Thorn looked up at the jury, gulped, squirmed and turned back to Sir William. “Yes, s-sir.”
“She … she …” He started to tremble. “She s-s-started ter put the juice on my f-f-face … an’, an’, an’, it hurt! Real bad! Like – like the time I put me hand on the oven on accident, an’ it burned! But I couldn’t move away, an’ it kept hurtin’!”
“Oh, no. How did you feel when she did that? In your heart, not on your face.”
“I were – I were scared, sir!”
“What did you do then?”
Thorn’s eyes dropped. “Nothin’. I couldn’t move. I jest prayed, sir, that Auntie Lyndsay or Uncle Ash would know I was in trouble an’ they would come find me.”
“What did Lady Morgause – the lady – do while you were hurting?”
“She – she would wait a bit, an’ wipe the juice off me. An’ every time she did, I …” Thorn looked at the ground. “I felt real tired, sir. An’ sick. An’ … jest tired, as well as hurtin’. Like I could sleep forever.”
“Like you could sleep forever,” Sir William repeated. Christopher looked at the jury. Four of the six of those jurymen (and -women) had children. He wondered how many of them had ever explained death to a small child in terms of sleep. “What happened next?”
“Well, s-she, she finished. An’ then she looked at me, and tasted the – the juice, an’ looked real mad. Then she pointed at me again, an’ said some words, an’ I could move again. But … but I couldn’t really, sir. I was real tired. An’ I hurt all over.”
“Did she know you were hurting?”
“I was cryin’. A little. Very little,” said the voice of the little boy trying so hard to be a big boy. “But she jest left an’ took the funny plant with her. An’ then … I cried a littler, fer Auntie Lyndsay … an’ I guess I must’ve fallen asleep, ‘cause I had a funny dream about a lady tellin’ me everythin’ was gonna be all right, an’ then I woke up an’ Mama Betsy was there.”
“Mama Betsy? Did you know her before?”
“No, sir, but she said ter call her that. It ain’t wrong if a grown-up says ye can do that, is it?”
“No, no, not at all. Well, Thorn, I want to ask you to do something that might be a little hard. I want you to go back and remember everything you just told me. Can you do that?”
Thorn nodded. Then he squeezed his eyes shut and grimaced, the way a little boy would if he was trying hard to remember something.
“Next, I want you to think about that day again.”
Thorn shuddered, but by his grimace he did what he was told.
“Is there anything that happened that day – anything between you playing hide-and-seek with Ginny and you waking up with Mama Betsy – that you forgot to tell me before?”
“All right, then. I’m done asking you questions, Thorn. Now it’s Sir Mordred’s turn. Will you be a good boy and answer his questions, too?”
Thorn looked askance at Sir Mordred, but he did nod.
“Thank you very much, Thorn, for answering my questions. Now I’ll let Sir Mordred ask his questions, and when he’s done you can go home with your Uncle Ash.”
The little boy nodded. Sir William went back to his desk, and Sir Mordred walked up.
Sir Mordred smiled at the little boy, but it was the small, tight smile of a man not much used to dealing with small children who weren’t his. “Hello, Thorn. Do you know who I am?”
Thorn shook his head.
“Do you know why I have to ask you questions?”
“Well, think about school, or at home. What happens if, say, your cousin … Ginny, was it? What happens if she says you did something bad?”
Thorn knit his brows together. “Auntie Lyndsay axes me what I have ter say fer meself. An’ then she axes Bran if he saw what happened.”
“Well, in this you are like your cousin Ginny, and Lady Morgause is like you, and I am like your Auntie Lyndsay. You are saying that she did something bad, and she is saying she did not, and I have to ask questions to determine what happened. Does that make sense?
“Aye, sir. But, but, sir!”
“But she did do somethin’ bad!”
Sir Mordred did not speak for a moment. He only frowned. “Did she, now.” His voice was deep enough to rumble the very floorboards beneath their feet.
And Lady Morgause was glaring daggers at that poor boy’s head.
Thorn swallowed loudly enough for everyone in that room to hear. Then he looked back up at Mordred. “Y-yes, s-sir.”
“Well, I still must ask my questions,” Sir Mordred replied with a shrug, as if it didn’t much matter to him, it was just a silly thing he had to do. Thorn took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “So, tell me, Thorn. Do you get in trouble often at home?”
“What sorts of things do you do?”
“Well … sometimes I don’t do me chores quick enough, sir. An’ I don’t like getting’ up, in the mornings. That makes Auntie Lyndsay really mad, it does.”
“I am not surprised. What else do you do?”
“Sometimes me an’ Ginny play too loud, an’ wake the baby. An’ sometimes we don’t share real good.”
“What about making up stories?” asked Sir Mordred. “Do you ever get in trouble for doing that?”
Thorn knit his brows. “No …”
“No?” Sir Mordred asked. “I have little boys your age, you know. They make up lots of stories. Don’t you do it?”
“Your honor, objection!” called Sir William. “The question has been asked and answered.”
“Sustained,” Lord Pellinore replied. “Thorn, that means that you are not to answer that question. Sir Mordred must come up with a new question, and you must answer that.”
Of course Thorn only looked confused at that, and Sir Mordred took advantage of that by changing the subject. “You know, you said something very interesting when Sir William was asking questions. You said …” He gestured for the record and received it. “Ah, yes. You said, ‘It ain’t wrong if a grown-up says you can do that, is it?’ Thorn, has a grown-up ever said you could do something that you normally could not?”
Thorn blanched and looked up at the gallery. “Thorn?” Sir Mordred pressed. “You have to answer my question. Has a grown-up ever said you could do something that you normally could not?”
“Well, Mama Betsy …”
“Not just Mama Betsy.”
Thorn stared up at Sir Mordred with beseeching eyes. The wood of the courtroom creaked, as it always did when a witness paused and panicked. Only every Sim leaning forward to look and listen could make that kind of creak.
“I shall make it easy for you,” Sir Mordred replied. “By your manner I can guess that there is a grown-up, other than Mama Betsy, who has told you that it is all right to do something that other grown-ups usually say you cannot do. Is that true?”
The boy was shamefaced, but he nodded.
“Who was that grown-up?”
Sir Mordred’s eyebrows went up. “Indeed. Is your Granny Kata — is her grown-up name Kata Thatcher?”
“She’s a Thatcher like Bran an’ Ginny an’ Betony an’ Uncle Ash an’ Auntie Lyndsay, aye. S-sir.”
“I see. I see.” Sir Mordred glanced sidelong at the jury and smirked a little at what he saw there. “And what does she say you can do that other grown-ups say you cannot?”
Thorn squirmed and mumbled something to his tunic.
“Pardon, Thorn? I couldn’t hear.”
“She s-s-says we can have s-s-sweetmeats before s-supper, s-sir,” Thorn stuttered.
There was a moment of shocked silence — then one of barely-suppressed laughter.
And the emphasis there was on barely. Poor Sir Lancelot was bent over in his chair with his shoulders quaking. The Crown Princess seemed to have a sudden fascination with her handkerchief, to drape it over her mouth so. Lady Eilwen was chuckling; Sir Bors cracked his first smile of the day, even if it was followed by a snort. Christopher could hear titters creeping down shamefacedly from the gallery. As for the rest of the jury, Master Edmond, the witch Emrys, and Master Ferreira were all grinning openly. Lady Claire looked she was trying to fight a battle with her mirth and losing badly. Sir Aglovale’s was the only face to remain straight, if more than a little annoyed.
“I see,” Sir Mordred growled, even as the little boy was looking around the courtroom, trying to determine what it was that was so funny. “Let me try something else, Thorn. Do you ever hear your uncle and aunt talk about money?”
“I … s’pose so, sir?”
“And what do they say?”
The lad shrugged. “Jest that that ain’t got enough, or that they don’t got enough fer this or that, or that they do got enough fer this ’cause Auntie Lyndsay got real good tips last night … sir, what’s a tip?”
Sir Mordred’s mouth opened to snap something, then it shut as he evidently thought better of it. “It is money that one gives to a waiter or waitress on top of the money for the food. It is a way of saying thank-you for good service. So your Uncle Ash and Auntie Lyndsay say that they do not have enough money, do they?”
“And what do they say they will do to get enough money?”
Thorn only stared blankly up at him.
Sir Mordred sighed. “Do they say that they will get more money after you speak today?”
“No, sir. They never say nothin’ about money an’ … an’ this.”
“Did they not impress upon you how important it was that you tell the story that you had all agreed upon?”
Sir Mordred sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward. “Didn’t they go over this story with you many times? Make sure you got it right? Tell you the things you had to say?”
Sir William was halfway to his feet when Thorn answered. “Well, we p-practiced, sir …”
“You practiced?” Sir Mordred pounced. “Why?”
“B-b-because I was scared, an’ Uncle Ash, he said maybe I would feel better if I practiced?”
“And how did you practice?”
“Uncle Ash an’ Auntie Lyndsay, they axed me questions, an’ I answered them.”
“And did they tell you how to answer?”
“No? Whyever not? Surely they are grown-ups. They know what the right answers are and what they are not. Why wouldn’t they tell you how to answer?”
Thorn frowned. “They — they jest said I gotta tell the truth, sir. That’s all they said.”
Sir Mordred stared at the boy, cocked his head to one side, and finally sighed. “No more questions.”
Lord Pellinore nodded. “Very well. Thank you, Thorn. You may go now.” The boy only heard his name before he was up and out, faster than a bolt from a crossbow. “Sir William? Have you any further witnesses?”
“The prosecution rests, your honor.”
“Then in that case …” Lord Pellinore looked outside, at the reddening sky and lengthening shadows. “In view of the lateness of the hour, the court will recess, beginning again first thing tomorrow. Lords, ladies, gentlemen and gentlewomen, you are free for the evening.”