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Chapter Thirty: The Court of Halen

By the time Bayne arrived at Ezabeth’s cottage, the sun had risen up over the horizon, heralding the day for Cilasia. Men and women were already taking to the streets, beginning their day after a night of celebrations. He knocked on the door to the cottage, and when it opened, he walked inside.

“The poison’s Viperweed and Bannon’s Oil,” he blurted out. Terra and Nalya burst out of the room where Ryan and Maryn were laying. Both of them had bags under their eyes, evidence of a night without sleep. Bayne was feeling the effects of fatigue as well, but Bayne was used to going days without sleep.

“Viperweed and Bannon’s Oil?” Ezabeth asked. She turned and opened a small cupboard with a number of ceramic jars. She started to shift them around, looking for the right ingredients.

“Was the Viperweed ground or shredded?” she asked Bayne. When he didn’t give a prompt reply, she said, “No matter, I’ll just add some extra dillpepper seed. Dillpepper seed never hurt anybody.” She continued to pull down ingredients from the shelf, and then filled a small pot with water, throwing it on the metal sheet in the fireplace. She looked over to Nalya. “It’ll take an hour to steep. When it cools, it should be ready.” She looked through the doorway towards Ryan. “Let’s pray it’s enough.”

“So he’ll be okay?” Terra asked.

“If it had been any later, I’d have to say no. But he stands a fighting chance now. All we can do until then is cool his fever and hope it doesn’t take him,” Ezabeth said. “We’ll know almost immediately should it work.”

“I cannot thank you enough,” Nalya said. “I’m not sure even the Royal Healers would have done this much.”

Ezabeth waved her hand. “It’s nothing,” she said. She looked over to Terra for a moment. “Would you take Maryn?” she asked.

Terra’s eyes shot open and she gasped. “What?” she asked.

“Back. To your town. Dunsmith. Will you take her?”

Terra looked back into the adjoining room, where Maryn had fallen asleep curled up in a ball on her own bed. “I’m not sure if–”

“We were going to leave come the next High Dream,” Ezabeth explained. “It’s a curse, I tell you.” She set about mixing ingredients into the pot a piece at a time, making sure to stir it carefully. “We can never stay in the same place for too long. The eyes of the Council are always watching.” She turned to Terra. “I believe she’ll be safe in Dunsmith.”

“What about you?” Terra asked.

“Bah,” Ezabeth said. “I’m not concerned about myself. They’re looking for her through me. As long as she’s with me, she’s in danger.” She looked back at Terra. “But they don’t know you. At least, not yet.”

Terra looked over at the sleeping girl again. She couldn’t see any reason why they couldn’t bring her back with them. Provided they made their way through their encounter with Vector, Maryn would have a much better chance at a normal life. She wouldn’t have to work in order to get fed, and she’d even receive a top-notch education, at least by Pactlandian standards.

Provided they survived Vector.

Terra gave Nalya a quick look, the question evident on her face. Nalya only shook her head and said, “this is your decision.”

She looked back at Ezabeth and nodded. “All right,” she said. “We’ll take her.”

Ezabeth nodded and smiled. “You have my thanks, child.”

 

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Quick sat atop the wooden rafter in the bottom floor hallway of the Grand Apartments, cradling Terra’s camera under a furry arm. He’d been in the building now for well over an hour, and he’d managed to smell out Izon Dueck’s room. The smell of sweat and sex permeated the room, and even Quick knew right off the bat who else was inside. He just needed to find a way in undetected. He’d already gone around the outside of the building, but to no avail. The window was closed tightly, the curtains drawn. He couldn’t see or hear what was happening inside.

Still, it being morning, Dueck would be up soon, and Quick knew that the best chance he had was to wait, watch and shadow the man, and hope to his ancestors that he would be able to perform his mission to satisfaction.

Quick still wasn’t used to being in a human city, he’d been born at Orynn’s cottage in the Disputed Lands, and for his whole life, it was all he knew of the world. Since Terra had arrived, however, Quick had been launched head-first into an entire Nation of men. A place as alien to him as it must have been for Terra and the others. Still, Quick wasn’t afraid. He’d learned to master his fears when he was a kit, which was why he found himself joining the humans on their quest. The old legends had held true, and Quick, the sole descendant of Tall, found it his duty to accompany them.

The door below clicked open, and Quick sat up, peering over the edge of the rafters. He could see the top of Izon Dueck’s bald head, and behind him, as he had expected, Delora Ruus stepped out. He readied the camera and turned it on, making sure to muffle the sound of the camera’s indicator as he turned it on. It beeped quietly, and fortunately neither Dueck or Delora had heard it.

Dueck looked up and down the hall, ensuring their privacy. It was empty, save for a guard standing at the far end, far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to hear a word that might be spoken. Dueck waited for Delora to exit the room and closed the door behind her.

“I don’t know why you must be so difficult,” Dueck said to her. “The situation will be dealt with.”

“Dealt with?” Delora said, then laughed. “Lord Dueck, I should say you’re boiling over with confidence. In a younger man, that might be fetching.”

Dueck’s face twisted up in frustration, but he let it smooth out after a moment. “It wasn’t a younger man’s name you were screaming last night, Delora,” he said.

Delora waved a dismissive hand. “We shared a pillow,” she stated. “It wasn’t the first time.” She looked to Dueck as the two started to walk down the hallway. Quick ran along the rafters, pointing the camera at the two of them the entire way. “What will you do if the bloodhead girl speaks?”

“It will be her word against mine,” he said. “By Halish law, she’ll be punished for spreading lies.” He growled. “But I would not even have had to deal with it had Astara done her job properly. It’s the last time I’ll hire her for such a task, I tell you.”

“A younger man would have dealt with it himself,” she chided.

Dueck stopped and jabbed a finger in her face. “Do not think for a moment that I’ll put up with your silly little games, Delora,” he said. “You had a job to perform as well, and I’ve yet to see you complete it.”

“Speaking to the King is proving difficult,” she said. “Even at last night’s Ball, he was barely approachable.” She continued forward. “But I’ll speak to him yet, and he’ll have little choice than to send her to the Council’s Halls without that blasted Dalon.  Even Nadus won’t go against the Council’s wishes, lest he face their wrath.” She looked back. “And if he proves difficult, no amount of Cloudstalkers will be able to protect him. He’s already riding the Council’s last nerve.”

Quick was having a hard time keeping up with them while holding the camera in place, but it didn’t matter. With what he had so far, he was certain there would be evidence enough of their wrongdoing. Still, he was curious as to what he would hear next.

“I still don’t see the importance of the Lady Nalya,” Dueck said. “Why not just have her done in? If she’s so much trouble for the Council, it doesn’t seem worth it to have her merely exiled.”

“That’s not for us to know,” she said. “The Council has a plan for her, and I know better than to go against their wishes. They were furious at learning of her father’s death.”

The two were quickly approaching the end of the hallway. Quick was running out of rafter to run along. Soon, they would be out of sight and his chances of capturing more evidence was nil.

As he approached the end of the rafter, he kept the camera trained on them. He was especially proud of himself for using the zoom feature to capture them walking away until they were out of earshot.

As they rounded the corner, Quick turned the camera off. Satisfied, he strapped it to his back once more and then set out to leave the apartments and return to the others.

 

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Boomer rubbed the sleep from his eyes, even two hours after having woke up. He’d called it an early night, after the stress of having to deal with Silvereye, then learning of Andy’s capture, he’d not been much in the mood for anything. Still, after their game of Capture the Flag, Arie spent a few hours at his house where they watched one of the early James Bond films, starring Sean Connery. A fitting film, but Boomer found his mind constantly wandering to Andy. Since he had woken, however, he felt a sort of apprehension. It wasn’t an unwillingness to perform the mission set before him, but a nervous feeling that made him unsure of what the outcome would be, especially considering Andy’s fate.

Arie had gone home as the sun went down, and Boomer had gone to sleep the moment his head hit the pillow.

He had purposely avoided showering and shaving that morning, and made sure to get some extra dirt on him during his morning training session. After all, he was to be a prisoner. Prisoners in the Pactlands didn’t get shower allowances. They were lucky to be fed.

Which was why Boomer had made himself a double-sized breakfast. A stack of pancakes, two oranges, two slices of toast with peanut butter, and a liter of orange juice. His last liter of orange juice. Boomer expected it would be a while before he ever saw OJ again. As he understood it, there were no orange orchards in Dunsmith. A few apple orchards, but no oranges, and he hadn’t been made aware of oranges existing in the Pactlands. He was going to miss oranges.

He dressed for the day, making sure to wear rugged clothes that would be strong and durable that breathed well. After all, chances were he’d be wearing them for some time. After that, he sat on his front porch and waited.

He’d had a somewhat tearful goodbye from Lily the day before, as she left him and Arie. He could sense that she, too was scared.

According to Boone, the six of them would go to Stone’s Mouth, head due west for several hours, then swing down south, heading in the general direction of the Vectoran camp south of town. Once there, Boomer was to pretend to be a prisoner, while Justin and the others would pretend to be Freemen bandits.

Boone arrived right on time. Almost to the second he pulled up to the curb outside Boomer’s house, his watch beeped, announcing that it was six in the morning. Boomer hoisted his bag over his shoulder and walked over to Boone’s car, swinging it open.

“You ready, kiddo?” he asked.

Boomer rolled his eyes. “Yeah, as ready as I’m going to be.” He threw his pack into the back seat and got inside, closing the door behind him.

Boone started to drive up the street, heading for the logging roads. They were to meet Justin and the others at the road to Stone’s Mouth.

“Any word on Andy?” he asked.

Boone shook his head. “Nothing yet,” he said. “The camera died yesterday, out of juice. That’s going to be one of the things you guys are going to have to deal with when you get there.”

“I don’t know how,” Boomer said. “The camp’s full of soldiers who are no doubt going to be watching our every move. Climbing a tree in the middle of them unnoticed isn’t going to be easy.”

Boone nodded. “Understood. Justin will have to be the one to do it, he’ll be the only one who actually knows how to replace the batteries. Make sure you tell him not to take too big of a risk. I’d rather not see you and assume that you guys are safe than have a working camera and watch you die.”

“Oh, that just fills me with unending confidence,” Boomer said.

The two talked as they drove up the logging roads. Boomer watched as they drove past small groups of soldiers, walking to and from Stone’s Mouth via the gravel roads. Apparently they’d been working at widening and smoothing out the path between Dunsmith and Stone’s Mouth, making for easier access from vehicles. The first shipment of coal from the mines had come through the day before, but it had been a rough trip. The roads weren’t quite vehicle-ready, and Randy Clark’s dump truck had gotten stuck more than once. When he returned, he raised a huge stink about the roads, and Goose had countered by sending up men, chainsaws, Bobcats and even one large yellow Caterpillar. The road would be cleared before the next time the Stone’s Mouth miners had another load ready.

Boone finally rounded the last corner, and Boomer saw Justin and the four Halish men sitting by the side of the road. As Boone stopped the car, he got out.

Justin stood up and walked up to Boomer, shaking his head. “Hey boss,” he said.

“Boss?” Boomer asked.

Justin nodded. “Yeah, our orders are that you’re in charge,” he said. “We’re just supposed to lay low and do our jobs until you tell us what to do.”

Boomer looked over to Boone, who only shrugged. “Those were Andy’s orders,” he said. “Before he left, at least. If you find him in one piece, you can bring it up with him.”

Boomer sighed. “All right,” he said. He looked down the road leading away from Dunsmith, into the Disputed Lands. It was only his second time laying eyes on the natural landscape of the Pactlands, the first time was at Camper’s Corner on the first morning they had arrived. The landscapes were very much the same, except the trees and grass were greener on the other side. Dunsmith’s trees had a dull tint to them. Boomer imagined it was due to the amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere as compared to the Pactlands’. He’d even noticed that Dunsmith’s already clear air was made fresher by their presence in the Disputed Lands.

“So, you boys are clear on what to do, right?” Boone asked.

Boomer nodded. “Head west from Stone’s Mouth, swing around south and head towards the camp along the border.”

“We’ll wait until we’re past the village before we bind you up,” Justin said, hoisting a length of rope for effect.

Boomer nodded, then looked down the road. He could see tire tracks, evidence of the large bulldozer that had been sent to clear the road. Trucks were parked all around the area, obviously owned by the loggers that had taken to the task of clearing out the road. Further down, he could hear the roar of a chainsaw. They were already well on their way, making the first road cleared by machinery in the Pactlands. If it hadn’t been such a normal thing for Dunsmith, one might have called it historic. It definitely was by Pactlandian standards.

“Okay, you boys should get to Stone’s Mouth by ten or so,” Boone said. “Find Brad Renfrew, he’s been taking care of business on that end for a few days now. He’s got your final orders, so make sure you check in with him, and then be on your way.” He turned back to his car and pulled out a small pack, handing it to Justin. “There’s a radio in there, for emergencies. Keep it off, and if the Vectorans happen to find it, lie through your teeth,” he said. “There’s an old pistol in there, a six-shooter. Nothing special, but it’s light-years ahead of what they have.” He pointed a finger in the air. “Remember, emergencies only.”

Justin nodded as he took the pack. The group of men stood around for a few moments longer before Boone turned around and opened the car door. “I’ve got to head back into town. Send us word when you start heading South.”

Boomer and Justin nodded, then looked at each other.

“Godspeed, guys. Good luck,” Boone said, then climbed into his car and started the engine.

As he drove away, Boomer watched.

“I suppose we’d better get this show on the road,” he said to nobody in particular. He looked back to Justin. “Ready?”

Justin nodded. A few moments later, they started off down the road to Stone’s Mouth.

 

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Ryan opened his eyes slowly at first, but then they started to flutter with life. He shot up in bed, yelling out something unintelligible, rolling off the bed to the floor. He scrambled around for a moment, trying to gain the strength to stand, but found it lacking.

He searched his mind for answers. The last thing he remembered was walking down the road, and then– nothing. Pain. Coldness. Had he fallen?

No. He was pushed. He was stabbed in the chest, then pushed into the water. Ryan looked down to his chest, fighting back a strong nausea he’d never experienced before. He ran his fingers along a thin white scar, then looked up. He was in a strange room, and on a bed nearby a little blond girl slept silently.

Where was he? He’d never been here before. He–

Terra! Suddenly, he launched to his feet, fighting off the dizziness. He needed to find her, he needed to–

“Ryan!” Terra’s voice called. He looked up. She was standing in the doorway. Or at least, she had been. Almost to the moment she had spoken his name, she was upon him, hugging him tightly. The impact knocked Ryan over, onto the bed. He coughed and heaved.

He hadn’t had time to say anything before Nalya was upon him as well, embracing him tightly. The two girls stayed on top of him for a moment longer before another voice yelled out sharply, “Oi, leave him be! He’s still not well enough to be piled upon!”

Ryan felt the pressure let up as the girls released him. Behind them, he could see Bayne and an older lady wearing a white apron stained with God only knew what. He looked to Terra. “You’re okay?” he asked.

Terra nodded. “What do you remember?”

“I remember Henna,” he said. “She stabbed me.”

“She tried to kill you,” Terra explained. “She poisoned you and kidnapped me, but I managed to get away. Bayne and Corpus found her.”

“Aye,” Bayne said. “It’s good to see you well, lad.”

Ryan gave him a nod. He looked at his hands. They were blotchy and discolored, turned almost a bluish hue. They were cold, but he could feel the warmth filling them again as his heart beat. He looked back up. “Cale?” he asked.

“Corpus went to fetch Quick,” Bayne said. “We can only hope he managed to gather the proof we need to have him declared innocent.”

Quick?” Ryan asked.

“He’s got my camera,” Terra explained.

Ryan’s head hit the pillow. He took a deep breath. “How long was I out?”

“For the night,” Terra said. She checked her watch. “It’s almost ten now, we’ve got two hours to deal with Cale.”

“We won’t need it,” another voice said from the room behind them. They looked over to see Corpus standing there, Quick riding upon his shoulder and Terra’s camera in his hand. “He’s done it.”

“What?” Terra asked. “Quick, you rock! Let me see!” She ran over and took the camera from Corpus, switching it on. She flipped through her pictures until she arrived at the video, playing it.

The video played, and all present gathered around it. As the video played, Nalya’s eyes grew wide. She stepped back and looked to the ground.

“I don’t understand,” she said. “What would the Council want with me? Why is Delora doing their bidding?” She looked to Bayne, who merely looked back with an unknowing expression.

“I couldn’t say,” Corpus said. “But it’s no matter we must concern ourselves with now. We must take this to the King. It’ll mean Dueck’s head, to be sure. Possibly Delora’s.”

“Can’t they deal with the Council?” Terra asked. “The King? I mean, if they’re the ones behind all this, and now we have proof–”

“It’s no proof of the wrongdoing of the High Magus Council,” Corpus said. “Dueck never said anything about that. He only referred to them as the Council. Nothing can be done.”

“Why are we sitting around here, then?” Ryan said, trying to get up. He was still weak. “Let’s go show the King.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Ezabeth announced. “You’re not going anywhere. That poison’s still coursing through you, too much exertion could still strike you dead.”

Ryan looked up at her and raised an eyebrow. “But–”

“No buts,” Nalya said. “You’ll stay here for now.” She looked to Ezabeth. “When will it be safe for him to move?”

“I’m brewing some tea for him now,” she said. “It’ll be a few hours before he’ll be well enough to walk without help.”

Nalya nodded. “We’ll go and speak with Nadus,” she said. “Stay here until we return.”

Ryan rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he said.

 

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Boomer was surprised to see the number of Dunsmith men that were lingering about Stone’s Mouth. Military, by the look of them. They wore the green camouflage that was indicative of Canadian Military and stood around the outskirts of the town carrying rifles or handguns, keeping a keen eye out for Vectoran soldiers. When they had captured Andy, Boone had thought it necessary to provide protection to Stone’s Mouth, who had already dealt with them once. After all, the coal mine was one of the most important resources they had outside of Dunsmith, and they needed to make sure it didn’t pass into Vectoran hands.

They found Brad Renfrew easily enough. He was sitting outside of a small cottage, cooking up a few eggs on a small propane stove that he’d brought with him from Dunsmith. He waved them over as he saw them coming.

“Boomer, right?” Brad asked, walking up to the group.

Boomer nodded and shook his hand. “Mr. Renfrew?”

“Brad,” he said. “I’ve seen you around, but I’ve never actually met you. I hear you’re the man of the hour.”

Boomer shrugged. “I guess so.” He looked around the village. “So this is Stone’s Mouth.”

“Not much to look at right now,” Brad said. “They’re still trying to fix the place up from what Vector did to it, but we’ve supplied them with a bunch of tools and lumber. Shouldn’t take them very long.” He pointed towards a small building that was in its early stages of development. “That’s where the office is going,” he said.

“Office?” Boomer asked.

Brad nodded. “The committee figured we needed a permanent presence here. It’s just one of three buildings we’ve got going up, the office is going to be dealing with all that diplomatic shit between Stone’s Mouth and Dunsmith. We’ve got a Barracks going up over there,” he pointed towards another spot that was still in the process of being cleared out. “Then we’re building a reservoir just outside the village. Apparently they get their water from a nearby stream, it was part of our deal. We’re going to supply them with indoor plumbing, give them a few modern amenities, education and help them get on their feet, they continue to trade their coal with us.” He sighed. “Akris is also very adamant about getting electricity here. That idea’s still up in the air. We figure there’s enough spare copper and useless powerlines to spread our electricity coverage as far as Stone’s Mouth, but we’re still weeks away from any solid plans.”

Boomer’s eyes shot open. He’d never actually considered they’d be able to do that. Stone’s Mouth was to be the first place in the Pactlands to have electricity outside of Dunsmith. He found it ironic that one of the smallest villages on the continent would be the first to get electric lights, but also somewhat beautiful. In time, he could see the village growing to support modern Dunsmith facilities and utilities.

Provided Vector leaves them be.

Brad stood up, stretched and flipped his pan over, dropping his eggs onto a plate. He buried it in pepper and picked up a fork. “These guys are pretty backwards, but at least they can recognize something that’ll help them. We had a couple people here from some of the villages up north to trade, Hough and Timberfalls. They were surprised as hell to see us, I tell you. Some of them went on to Dunsmith.”

Boomer looked back in the direction of the town. There was little evidence of it beyond the spire of smoke that rose up from the other side of the mountain. Boomer imagined it was from the power plant or the sawmill. The smoke could probably be seen for miles around, and he half expected that it would be used as a navigation tool by visitors.

“Anyway,” Boomer said. “We were supposed to check in with you when we got here.” He motioned to Justin and the others, who had taken a few moments to rest. “We’re supposed to be picked up by Vector by the end of the day.”

Brad nodded. “Sure thing,” he said, then rummaged around in his pocket for something. “Here.” He passed him a small slip of folded paper.

“What’s this?”

“Open it and find out,” he said.

Boomer opened the paper and looked at it. All it said was: “June 27, 1:00 AM.”

“It’s the twenty-second today,” Brad said. “That gives you five days to get your job done, find out what you can. Just make sure you take the counter-intelligence road. Try to fuck them up however you can, but be careful. They’ll catch on after a while.” He pointed in the direction of the mine. “Follow that path down for about four or five clicks, there’ll be a fork in the road. Apparently it leads to another village down south, but it’s been abandoned for years. From there, you can make your way east and with any luck, a Vectoran patrol will come across you.”

Boomer held the date up. “What happens in five days?”

Brad looked back at him and cocked his head. “That’s when we start dropping the bombs,” he said, then put a finger to his mouth. “But I never told you that.”

 

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Nalya walked into the crowded courtroom, followed closely by Bayne and Terra. It was a room with high walls nestled deep inside the King’s Palace. Rows of people sat, witnesses and students interested in the workings of the Halish legal system. Near the front of the room was a long oak table. Several noblemen sat talking to each other, joking and laughing. The trial hadn’t yet started, and Corpus had taken Terra’s camera to go and see Nadus while he told them to wait inside.

She could see a small barricaded area, obviously meant for prisoners and defendants. Nalya had never been in the Halish court, but she’d bore witness to several trials in Rasza, and the method was much the same. The Court of Noblemen would decide on the innocence or guilt of those standing trial, the sentence to be carried out before sunset following its conclusion.

Word had spread quickly over the night, and many people were gathering inside to witness the trial of the strange outlander charged with the attempted assassination of Lord Dueck. Nalya furrowed her brow when she spotted Dueck sitting near the front. Glavius Sonora on one side, and her cousin on the other.

Nalya found a seat for the three of them, several rows behind Dueck and turned to Bayne. “It will start soon,” she said. “Make sure your eyes don’t leave Dueck.”

Bayne nodded and took the seat next to her.

“What’s going to happen?” Terra asked.

“When the King arrives, he’ll call forth the witnesses. Our names may be called. Just tell them what truth you know. Corpus has requested that we leave Astara to him and his family, so don’t mention her by name,” Nalya said. “They should bring Cale out soon, and once the trial starts, stay silent unless called upon.”

Terra nodded, and they sat in the courtroom, waiting patiently. Finally, a large door clacked open behind the barricaded area. They watched as a big, burly guard pushed Cale not-so-politely through the door and instructed him at swordpoint to take a seat. Cale immediately started to scan the crowd, frowning at Izon Dueck, then raising his eyebrows when he saw Terra, Nalya and Bayne. He gave a small wave until the guard growled at him, then he remained still.

Izon Dueck turned his head and made eye contact with Nalya. He shot her a sly smirk, then wore a brief look of alarm upon seeing Terra. He turned away.

“Asshole,” Terra said. “He’s got no idea what’s in store for him.”

She had barely finished speaking before a man stood up at the one side of the table and shouted loud enough for the whole room to hear. “Presenting his Royal Highness, King Nadus Hillbreaker the Twenty-Third of Halen!”

Nalya watched as Nadus entered the room and sat at the head of the table. She smiled as she spotted the little gray form of Terra’s camera in his hand. Corpus had done it.

“People of the court, Halen, and all visitors, I welcome you to today’s trial,” he said to those present. “We are here today to pass judgment on an outlander accused of attempting to assassinate a Lord of Halen.” He looked to the crowd. “I will call upon several to speak, some against, and some for. We will then review the evidence and pass judgment.” He took a seat and fixed his clothes, smoothing his shirt out against his stomach. “The first witness is Lord Glavius Sonora,” he said.

Nalya watched as Glavius stood up and bowed. He walked out onto the floor, standing in front of the table.

“My King,” he said, bowing.

“Tell us of the incident, Glavius,” Nadus said.

“My Lord, Lord Dueck and I were enjoying each other’s company last night at the Harbinger’s Ball,” he said, swiping a hand through his white hair. “We were set upon by an assassin, who used a strange weapon in an attempt to harm Lord Dueck. Had it not been for my quick action, he may have been hurt badly, or worse. It is my belief that this man who stands trial had intended on nothing less than the death of Lord Dueck.”

“And what actions did you take?” Nadus asked. “To stop this assassination?”

“I hit the man over the head with my closed fist,” he said, making a fist for effect. “He was felled instantly.” He wore a look of pride.

“And it’s your contention that this man, Cale Shephard, a lawkeeper of foreign lands, be found guilty?” Nadus asked.

“That is true, Highness,” he said.

Nadus nodded. “You may sit,” he said. As Glavius bowed and returned to his chair, Terra tugged on Nalya’s sleeve.

“What is he doing?” she asked. “Why doesn’t he just show them the camera?”

“There’s a method to this,” Nalya said. “He will get to it.” She craned her neck to look behind her and saw Corpus standing near the entrance to the courtroom. He smiled at her and showed her his palm, a distinctly Halish gesture akin to the thumbs-up that Dunsmithians were fond of.

“I would call upon the alleged victim, Lord Izon Dueck of Arronay,” Nadus said.

Dueck stood up and bowed. He flashed Nalya and Terra a winning smile, then stood in front of the King’s table.

“Lord Dueck,” Nadus began. “Tell us of your ordeal.”

“My Lord, it is just as Lord Sonora said,” Dueck began. “I was beset upon by the assassin,” he pointed at Cale. “He attempted to kill me without reason. No doubt put up to the task by men who would mean me harm.”

“Let us not stray to presumptions, Lord Dueck,” Nadus said. “It is your contention that he be found guilty?”

Dueck nodded. “It is, Highness.”

“Very well,” Nadus said, then jotted a note down on a piece of paper in front of him. “You may return to your seat, Lord.”

“These go a hell of a lot faster here than back home,” Terra said. “Aren’t there any lawyers?”

“Any which?” Nalya asked. The word was unfamiliar to her.

“I have heard now of reasons to order this man’s execution,” Nadus said. “Now I would hear from those who claim his innocence. I call the Lady Nalya Ruus, formerly of Rasza.”

Nalya stood up, then bowed. She shot Dueck a sour look as she passed, then stood before the table.

“I would like it to be recognized that the Lady Ruus is neither of Halish or Raszan nobility, as she has been stripped of her title,” a man near the King said. He hadn’t even looked up.

“It is recognized as such,” the King said, then looked to Nalya. “You speak on this man’s defense?”

“I do, Highness.”

“It’s true that you did not bear witness to the event in question, is it not?” he asked.

Nalya nodded.

“Then let it be written that the Lady Ruus is merely a witness of character to the accused,” Nadus said. “You may speak on his behalf, Lady.”

“Highness, Cale Shephard is a lawkeeper in his home– a man oathbound to follow the word of law and live by its guides. He is incapable of acting in any other fashion than his laws dictate.”

“He is a foreigner, is he not? From the Disputed Lands?” another man at the table asked. “How are we to know what kind of savagery he calls law?”

“His people are very gentle and advanced,” Nalya said. “Even by Halish standards.”

There was a brief commotion in the crowd, several people openly scoffing Nalya’s statement. Nadus stood up quickly, and the crowd hushed.

“Gentle?” the man replied. He threw a small bit of metal onto the table. “This was dug from the wall at the scene of the event. It was so deeply embedded that the wall was damaged and needed immediate repair. Had the Lord Dueck been in its path, it would have passed right through him. You call this gentle?”

“They have powerful weapons because their enemies are just as powerful,” she explained.

“You say he is a lawkeeper. What is his rank?” another noble at the table, an older woman, asked.

“He holds the rank of Constable, which as I understand things is of the lowest available rank given to lawkeepers in his home.”

“A mere constable?” she replied. “Interesting.”

“Is it your contention, Lady, that this man be found innocent?” Nadus asked.

Nalya nodded. “It is, Highness.”

“Very well,” he said. “You may sit.”

As Nalya did so, Nadus began to speak again. “I will call upon the Lady Terra Murphy of Dunsmith.”

Terra stood up and bowed. Nalya was relieved she had picked up the tradition quickly. It may have caused problems if she hadn’t. She met Nalya’s eyes as they passed each other, and as Nalya sat, Terra stood before the table.

“You are the Lady Murphy, then? Of Dunsmith?” Nadus asked.

Terra nodded. “I’m not a Lady, but yes. I’m from Dunsmith.”

“And you did not bear witness to the event in question either, is this true?”

Terra nodded.

“Let it be known that the Lady Murphy is but a witness to the character of the accused,” Nadus said, then looked back at her. “How long have you known Cale Shephard?”

“A few years, Highness,” Terra said. “We first met when he placed me under arrest.”

“This man placed you under arrest?” Nadus asked, pointing at Cale. “May I ask for what reason?”

“Possession of marijuana, Highness. Sweetflower.”

“You were arrested for having sweetflower in your possession? Is sweetflower made illegal in your Dunsmith?” he asked.

Terra nodded. “It is.”

“So you are a criminal,” another noble stated.

Nadus glared at the man for a moment. “I would strike that from the record,” he said. “The Lady Murphy has broken no laws in Halen.” He looked back to her. “I understand you underwent a terrifying ordeal last night. Is it true?”

Terra nodded. “My friend and I were attacked last night by an assailant,” she said. “I was kidnapped and he barely survived the ordeal.”

Nalya watched as Dueck shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Obviously he hadn’t known that Ryan survived. He didn’t look back though, he simply leaned over to Delora and whispered something to her.

“You were kidnapped?” Nadus asked. “And how is it that you are here now?”

“I set a fire,” she explained. “It created enough of a diversion that I was able to escape.”

“Yes, I’ve heard of a fire striking the Old City District,” he said. “This was your doing, then?”

Terra nodded. “It was needed in order for me to escape.”

“And your assailant. Can you name him?” Nadus asked.

Terra shook her head. “I could not tell you a name,” she explained.

“No matter,” another noble said. “There is no guarantee that you speak truth. Any name given would likely be a wild chase.”

Nalya narrowed her eyes. She knew Terra was quick to anger, especially if someone labeled her a liar. She was relieved to see that Terra kept her calm.

“To the subject at hand,” Nadus said, interrupting. “How would you rate the character of Constable Shephard?”

“I trust him with my life,” Terra said. “He would never hurt anyone unless it was to protect innocent people.”

“And it’s your contention that he be found innocent?” Nadus asked.

Terra nodded.

“You may sit, Lady Murphy,” Nadus said.

Terra went to go sit. She looked at Terra when she arrived. “How did I do?” she asked.

Nalya nodded. “Well. But it’s traditional to refer to men as Lords and women as Ladies in this court. They weren’t referring to a title.”

“Oh,” Terra said, then looked back at the table. They were speaking quietly amongst themselves.

Finally, Nadus stood up. “I have called upon these four witnesses. Two for, and two against. By Halish law, we cannot value the word of outlanders that hold no title over the word of our own Lords,” he said. “However, it appears that new evidence has recently been brought to my attention. A new witness who, as I understand things, is incapable of lying.”

Nalya watched as Dueck flinched, then shifted in his seat again. He raised his hand in order to speak.

“You’ve been given your chance to speak, Dueck,” Nadus said. He placed Terra’s camera on the table. “I’m told that this device is not magickal in nature, but is instead crafted through a form of machinery that we do not yet understand. It is called a camera, and it captures images and sounds through eyes and ears made by craftsmen rather than magii. I myself have seen its ability and I am content that it be true.”

Nalya smiled. It was coming. Soon. She saw as Delora and Sonora leaned in, both talking to Dueck excitedly. He only shook his head in reply.

Nadus did what Corpus had shown him and turned on the camera. He placed it in the center of the table and bid those seated there to gather closer to it. They watched quietly for a moment, and some of them periodically looked over to Dueck and Delora.

When it was finished, they each sat down, looking at each other gravely.

Nadus stood up. “The evidence shows us clearly who is the liar,” he said. Nalya watched as Delora started to get up. She could sense what was about to happen and was trying to distance herself from Dueck, who apparently had the same idea.

“Lord Dueck, I am placing you under arrest for conspiracy against Halen,” he said.

“What?” Dueck exclaimed. “Highness, you’ve been lied to! This is a trick, I swear by it!”

Nadus held up the camera. “You would go against my word?” Nadus said. “I swear this device to be incapable of lying. You swear that it lies?”

“I do, Highness!” Dueck pleaded.

“Then you shall be charged for slander against the King as well!” he exclaimed. “I also charge that Glavius Sorana and Delora Ruus be held accountable as well!”

The guards moved in quickly, grabbing Delora and Dueck. Sonora had never left his seat, but Nalya could tell that he was dumbstruck. They had no idea what had happened. Dueck looked back at Nalya, the horror evident on his face. Nalya only smiled. Terra waved at him, a wide grin showing on her face.

As the three were dragged away by the guards, Nadus looked to Cale. “Constable, on behalf of the entire Nation, I must give my apology for the confusion,” he said. “However, had it not been for you, we would not have ousted conspirators in our midst. As payment for your troubles, you are hereby set free, and I would invite you and your friends to dine with my wife and I tonight, so we may better understand you and your people. Do you accept my apology?”

Cale only stared back, nodding dumbly. He had no idea what had just occurred.

“Let it be known that Cale Shephard has been found innocent,” Nadus said. “And for his service to Halen, I announce him Lord Cale Shephard of Arronay from this day forward.”

“Does that mean what I think it means?” Terra asked.

Nalya nodded. “Yes,” she said. “Cale’s now Halish nobility.”

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Published inChildren of the Halo
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