Foreman of the jury. Richard would be lying if he tried to claim his ambitious soul didn’t thrill a little at that. Even if he was only the foreman because nearly everyone else was unsuitable, still. He was in charge. It was a feather to his cap, and Richard firmly believed that there was no such thing as a cap with too many feathers.
He laid his hands on the table. “Well!” he said with as much forced cheerfulness as he could muster (because even if the circumstances were grim, their necks weren’t on the line), “what do you say we start with a vote, to figure out where we all stand? Those in favor of acquittal, say aye.”
“Aye,” said Professor Emrys and Sir Aglovale.
“I see. Those in favor of a conviction?”
“Aye,” said Sir Lancelot, and Richard added his aye in there too.
Sir Lancelot, however, frowned. “Lady Claire? Master Chevaux? You didn’t vote.”
Richard’s gaze volleyed between the two of them. Master Chevaux sat silent and stony-faced. Lady Claire chewed her lower lip. “I –” she started, and stopped.
“Lady Claire?” Sir Lancelot prodded, but with a soft smile.
“I … don’t know what to think,” she admitted in the tone of somebody about to be sick.
“Well, at least you admit it,” replied Professor Emrys. Lady Claire turned to her with wide eyes. “Most folks don’t, as a rule.” The Professor winked, and Lady Claire managed a relieved smile.
“So what don’t you know what to think about?” asked Richard.
“I … oh, I don’t even know where to begin,” she sighed. “She’s a woman. A mother. A grandmother! How could any mother do such horrible things to a little boy?”
Richard didn’t say anything. He let his raised eyebrows do all the talking.
“But … why would Betsy Pelles … Lady Dindrane, the little boy … why would they lie?” whispered Lady Claire.
“It’s not that simple,” replied Professor Emrys. “We’re not being asked to say she’s innocent, you know. Just whether she’s guilty or not.”
“I don’t …” Lady Claire began, her voice trailing into nothingness before she could reach the end of her sentence.
“We’ve got two choices for each of the charges: guilty or not guilty. Now, if we say she’s guilty, well, then, she’s guilty. At least in the eyes of the law. But if we say she’s not guilty? That doesn’t mean we think she’s innocent. Just that we’re not quite convinced that she’s guilty.”
“Indeed,” Sir Aglovale answered. “There’s no physical evidence, really. Just the word of three Sims. Should we send a woman to the block on that?”
Richard snorted. “She’s the King’s sister. I’m not at all convinced that she would go to the block, no matter what we decide.” There was a round of hesitant nods from around the table — though the head of Sir Lancelot, the man who knew the King best of all of them, was conspicuously still.
“Even so …” Sir Aglovale shrugged. “Either of the charges could carry the death penalty. If we’re not absolutely certain, we’ve no business voting guilty.”
“So — you don’t think your sister told the truth?” asked Lady Claire.
Sir Aglovale flinched, visibly flinched. “I didn’t say that!” he snapped. “Er — my lady.”
“But if you think she’s telling the truth …” Lady Claire murmured.
“It’s not enough. That’s what I’m saying. That’s what Mistress Emrys is saying, too, I believe. Isn’t it?” he asked.
“Aye, ’tis, Sir Aglovale.”
“Why isn’t it enough?” asked Sir Lancelot. “I mean …” He gulped as all of the eyes in the room suddenly turned to him. “Will as good as got that wizard, Master Depiesse, to admit that Sir Mordred could have tampered with Lady Morgause’s workroom. Lady Dindrane found the leaf on the little boy. And she said the wounds on him looked like the wounds described in — well, I don’t remember what exactly she said, but some book she read, I’m guessing. Er …” He glanced at Professor Emrys. “I don’t suppose you happened to get a good look at little Thorn’s face? You could tell that the boy had been through — er — a great deal, but beyond that, I know I couldn’t say.”
“They’ve healed a great deal,” Professor Emrys began, slowly, “but …”
“Wait, wait. Begging your pardon, Mistress Emrys, but — do you have any expertise in this? I mean, other than being a witch,” Sir Aglovale asked.
It was a good question. Richard himself hadn’t asked it, but that was because his son went to Professor Emrys’s school, and he never would have sent his son to learn magic at any school that didn’t have a competent healer on staff (more for the sake of the other students than for George, admittedly). Professor Emrys — Naomi Emrys — happened to be the competent healer on the staff, at least insofar as magical wounds and accidents were concerned.
“I’ve made a study of healing,” the Professor shrugged. “Not as much as Lady Morgan — she’s good, she is — but I know my way around a sickroom. And I know the difference between the sort of burn you get from getting your hand too near to the fire, and the burn you get from … well,” she sighed.
“So which did you see on the lad’s face?” asked Richard.
Professor Emrys hesitated. “They’ve healed over a lot, thank the Lord for the boy’s sake, but … aye, the other type,” she murmured.
“Wait, wait!” Sir Aglovale made vague shooing motions for his hands. “Let’s say they were — other burns. Why didn’t Sir William find a witness who could say so? Other — other than my sister. A true expert, who could have seen the little boy when the wounds were fresh?”
Professor Emrys chuckled. “Aye, lad, and where are you proposing he would have found such an expert?”
“There are doctors in Albion, surely!” Sir Aglovale snorted.
“Says a young man who’s healthy as a horse,” Professor Emrys shook her head. “The three best healers we have are Kata Thatcher, Lady Morgan, and Father Hugh. Now, Kata Thatcher’s the boy’s grandmother, or the next best thing to it, and as for Lady Morgan … well, there’s bad blood between Lady Morgause and Lady Morgan. If Sir William had put her on the stand, Sir Mordred would have torn everything she said apart because of that. And Father Hugh, he’s been on a pilgrimage for months. So, which of them would you have asked to testify, hmm?” Professor Emrys’s eyebrow arched upward.
“What about that Depiesse fellow? They could have asked him to look the boy over,” Sir Aglovale asked.
“Not until after Lady Morgause was captured,” murmured Sir Lancelot.
“Whyever not?” Sir Aglovale scoffed.
“Because the King couldn’t trust him. I mean — not wholly. Not with that little boy’s life. Not with Lady Morgan’s security. If Lady Morgause had known that Thorn was being kept with Lady Morgan — there would have been a witch’s duel on Lady Morgan’s doorstep. It was bad enough when Lady Morgause was capt–oh, blast! I wasn’t supposed to mention any of that!” Sir Lancelot swore.
“Don’t worry, my lord,” Professor Emrys replied, patting his hand in a rather grandmotherly gesture. “You’re not saying anything that we intelligent folks couldn’t have guessed.”
“Speak for yourself,” Sir Lancelot muttered, earning himself a series of chuckles.
Lady Claire, however, frowned and sighed. “She — she would have done it, wouldn’t she have? She would have killed that little boy if she knew where he was.” She closed her eyes and shuddered. “I can’t — I can’t make myself believe she wouldn’t. Oh, Lord!”
A man couldn’t long remain a merchant without having a certain … sense of when another Sim was being swayed, was slowly letting him- or herself down from the fence to stand on one side or the other. A man couldn’t be a good merchant without knowing just how to get that Sim on his side of the fence. “So you think she’s capable of it, then?” Richard asked.
“Oh, Lord,” Lady Claire murmured.
Richard took that for a “yes.” “Now, ladies, lords and gentlemen — answer me this truthfully. Is there anyone sitting around this table who doesn’t think Lady Morgause was perfectly capable of kidnapping a four-year-old child and trying to — to –” All that came to him was the flippant description he’d used with Mark and the boys, so many months ago. “To grind him down for beauty paste. Metaphorically speaking.”
No one quite dared to speak. Even Sir Aglovale looked convinced — shocked, perhaps, that he was so easily convinced, but convinced.
“So — so then the question that remains,” came Sir Lancelot’s slightly trembling voice into the silence, “is whether we think she did, in fact, kidnap a little boy and try to … grind him down for beauty paste.”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” Richard shrugged. “Sir Lancelot?”
Sir Lancelot shook his head.
“Lady Claire?” asked Richard.
Lady Claire chewed her lip. “Lady — Lady Dindrane was quite convinced,” she whispered. “She — she’s convinced enough that she won’t let Lady Morgause near her children. Even — even if she is desperate about her marriage … she’s genuinely afraid for her children. And she’s so intelligent, so learned … and then there’s what the little boy said …” Slowly, she nodded. “Aye. I think — Lord help me — but I think Lady Morgause is … guilty.”
Sir Aglovale’s stewing told Richard all he needed to know about his opinion, so he turned to Professor Emrys instead. “Professor Emrys?”
She hesitated. “Lady Dindrane’s testimony isn’t as … compelling as you might think it is. Well, the whole of it — not her fear for her children. That I believed. But those bits about the cowplant, and how the lad came to … that’s fishy, that is. There’s more going on there than meets the eye.”
“So there’s reason for reasonable doubt?” asked Sir Aglovale.
Professor Emrys’s mouth opened — and just as swiftly shut again. Her brows knit together. “Not … necessarily.”
“The question’s about why the boy didn’t die, is it? It’s whether or not Lady Morgause kidnapped him and tried to kill him. And …” Professor Emrys frowned. “She did it. There’s no doubt in my mind. … And the more I think it over, and talk it over — those things I doubted, they don’t matter. They’re extra. Look at Sir Mordred’s defense! He didn’t try to give us a real reasonable doubt. He tried to plant a dozen little niggling doubts that don’t mean anything and don’t add up to anything. Aye. If he did that — he must have not been able to think of anything else. And he’s a clever man.”
“Even if Sir Mordred is an incompetent defender, that does not mean Lady Morgause is guilty in the eyes of the law!” Sir Aglovale exploded. “There’s still room to reasonably doubt that she did it. I still maintain that the word of three Sims, one of them an orphan gypsy, is not enough to send a noblewoman to the block.”
Oh, Lord. Richard tried not to roll his eyes. He heard a soft sigh from next to him, and glanced at Master Chevaux. “Master Chevaux!” he pounced, glad of a distraction. “We haven’t heard a word from you. What do you think happened?”
Master Chevaux stroked his beard. “Didn’t think it was my place at first, sir,” he murmured.
“Nonsense, of course it’s your place. We’re all …” The phrase equals here stuck sideways in his throat, like a stubborn chicken bone. “… Here to do the same job,” he substituted.
“So what do you think?”
Master Chevaux glanced sidelong at Sir Aglovale. “Beggin’ yer pardon, sir, but … she’s guilty. Ain’t no doubt in me mind.”
“None at all?” asked Sir Lancelot, startled.
“Why not?” demanded Sir Aglovale.
“‘Cause o’ the boy, m’lord.”
“The boy? You’d sentence a woman to death on the word of a four-year-old?”
“Beggin’ yer pardon, m’lord … but … ye don’t know kids, do ye?”
Sir Aglovale’s eyebrow went up. “I know that a four-year-old is as capable of lying as an adult.”
“No, sir, he ain’t. Oh — he can try — but he won’t be good at it. He hasn’t had time ter practice, see. A four-year-old couldn’t spin that yarn that well an’ have all them grown-ups believin’ it.”
“Who says I believe it?” Sir Aglovale grumbled.
“I weren’t talkin’ about us, m’lord, not yet. I were talkin’ about Sir William an’ anyone he’s got workin’ fer ‘im. An’ — an’ Lord Pellinore, an’ the King, I suppose?” He glanced at Sir Lancelot. “I mean, if they thought Lady Morgause would kill the little boy if she got wind o’ where he was … they must’ve believed him, too.”
“Master Chevaux,” said Professor Emrys politely as Sir Aglovale fumed, “I don’t think any of us doubt that little Thorn could not have made that story up. But I think Sir Aglovale might think it’s possible that he could have been … fed that story by his elders.”
“But Sir Mordred axed him that, or as good as axed him, an’ that little boy didn’t waver or sway,” Master Chevaux pointed out. “Now, a little kid like that, bein’ told what he’s done wrong? They’ll fall apart. That lad didn’t.”
“Perhaps …” Sir Aglovale murmured. “But even so, there’s still room to doubt. A reasonable person could disbelieve the boy — could disbelieve all of them. They’ve all got reason … even Dindrane … to lie.”
Master Chevaux opened his mouth, frowned, but in the end said nothing.
“Master Chevaux?” asked Richard.
“You look like you wanted to say something.”
Again, Master Chevaux’s mouth opened. Again, it shut. But now, his head turned to Sir Aglovale, and his mouth opened again. “I’m sorry, m’lord, fer what I’m about ter say. But it’s gotta get said. A reasonable person might say, aye, they’ve all got reason ter lie. But what brings ’em all together? A Plantsim — y’see, cause he’d be lyin’, not the boy — a fine housekeeper, an’ a lady, a true lady? The housekeeper an’ the lady, aye, they’re together already. But not Ash Thatcher. What’s his reason ter go inter it?”
“The money …”
“M’lord, beggin’ yer pardon, but if he got caught lyin’ … that’s lyin’ under oath, that is. He could swing fer that. Is he gonna get enough money ter risk that? Dyin’, and that tossin’ his wife an’ kiddies out in the cold?”
Sir Aglovale said nothing, but he blinked.
“An’ then there’s Mistress Pelles. Now, I knows her, an’ I likes her, but I ain’t gonna bring that inter it. I’m gonna axe meself: does she have enough reason ter lie? She could swing fer lyin’, too, ye know. She’s already lost her job. An’ any fool can see that she’s plumb terrified of Lady Morgause. Think o’ what Lady Morgause did ter her brother-in-law. Ye think she’s gonna risk that? An’ then there’s yer lady sister …” He hesitated. “But ye know her better than I do.”
“They still all have reason to lie,” Sir Aglovale whispered. “There’s still reasonable doubt.”
“Beggin’ yer pardon, m’lord,” replied Master Chevaux, just as softly, “but I don’t think there is. Because a reasonable man, he don’t jest axe himself, ‘Do they have a reason ter lie?’ an’ leave it at that. Because everybody’s got enough reason ter lie if ye dig deep enough. So he axes himself — do they got enough reason ter lie? ‘Cause if the answer’s yes, that’s one thing … but if it’s no …” Master Chevaux shrugged.
Sir Aglovale groaned and held his head in his hands. The rest of the jurors were silent.
Finally, though, he looked up — dazed — his heavy hair hanging over his hands. Richard swallowed.
“I think — I could very much be mistaken — but I think another vote is in order,” he murmured. “And if we have a unanimous decision … then I think our work here is very nearly done, my friends.”
But when all was said and done, it was two hours before Richard stood, as the jury foreman, in front of the rest of the court.
The crowd was much the same as it had been on the second day of testimony. Bianca and Maude sat where they had sat before, though beyond that Richard didn’t much care who was in the crowd. However, he did steal a glance at the gallery, and saw what he was looking for — the King and Queen, just where they had been yesterday.
“Foreman,” asked Lord Pellinore, “has the jury reached a verdict?”
“Aye, your honor. We have.”
“If I could have it here, please?”
Master Tower hurried to the jury box, and Master Ferreira handed the written, sealed verdict to him. He ferried it over to Lord Pellinore, who popped the seal with alacrity and perused the verdict with all the speed of an elderly turtle.
Finally, though, he nodded. “Very well. The verdict is acceptable. On the first count, then, that of kidnapping, how do you find the defendant?”
Richard glanced sidelong at Lady Morgause — and instantly regretted it. He didn’t need to see this now, not when it was too late to do anything about it.
“We find the defendant … guilty.”
A gasp ran through the courtroom. Sir Bors looked flabbergasted. Bianca stared at him with her jaw fallen, as if to ask, Did you just declare the KING’S SISTER guilty of a capital crime? The King’s children, however, as if to prove Bianca’s worries false, exchanged a look of what could only be called relief. Perhaps there was a bit of pain mingled in … but it was mostly relief.
Maude only snorted, as if to ask, Well, what did you expect? But that was Maude all over.
Richard didn’t look up into the gallery to see the reaction there. He was certain Kata Thatcher was grinning fit to split her face. But he didn’t need to see how the King was taking it. Seeing Lady Morgause grasp the railing of the dock as if she was losing her balance — seeing Sir Mordred cast a panicked glance at his mother — that was enough for him.
“And the second charge, of attempted murder? How do you find?”
Richard swallowed. “We find the defendant — guilty.”
He watched the relief ripple across the various members of the Gwynedd family. Even Sir Lamorak, who he understood was the best friend of Sir Mordred, looked as if an enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Lady Eilwen looked ready to burst into tears. Lady Dindrane’s eyes were closed, but a suspicious trail of water shone down her cheeks.
Richard caught a movement from the corner of his eye — it was Lord Pellinore, looking up to the gallery. Richard followed the line of his gaze.
To the King.
The Queen looked about to be sick even as she tried to reach for her husband’s hand. But it was a hand to give comfort — Richard was strangely sure of it — not to ask it.
The King did not take the offered hand. He only looked up at Lord Pellinore and nodded.
Lord Pellinore saw the nod, cleared his throat, and so silenced the buzzing courtroom. “Lady Morgause,” he said to the defendant. “You have been found guilty of one count each of kidnapping and attempted murder. The law prescribes only one penalty for these heinous crimes. And so … I have no choice but to sentence you to death, the sentence to be carried out in a manner of the King’s choosing, and to be carried out by the end of the year. May the Lord Wright have mercy on your soul.”
After that — well, Richard closed his eyes.
There were some things he had no desire to see.