The unpleasant task of convicting Trogan proceeds after lunch. Once that is concluded to everyone's satisfaction the three convicted men must be executed - and even now Trogan tries to influence the proceedings. Garia's stamina and resolution is tested during this most trying of days.
by Penny Lane
71 - Justice Served
Disclaimer: The original characters and plot of this story are the property of the author. No infringement of pre-existing copyright is intended. This story is copyright (c) 2011-2013 Penny Lane. All rights reserved.
"You can't sit there, milady! It wouldn't be right!"
"Why not?" Garia turned to look at Brydas. "If it is good enough for the King and Queen at the Harvest Festival, then it's sure good enough for me."
Brydas attempted to convey his meaning with his arms but this was difficult as one hand held a loaded plate and the other a full tankard. Against Garia's protests they had been pushed to the head of the line and served first, which meant that the courtyard of the Ptuvil's Claw was still relatively empty. The benches and tables had been re-arranged to accommodate those who wished to sit down and eat, and Garia had chosen a table right in the middle of the courtyard.
"It's not a problem, Master Brydas, it really isn't. I'm not ever going to be one of those lords and ladies who think the lower orders crawled out of a ditch. Four months ago I was no different than any of them and nothing's changed except the King has given me a whole load of new responsibilities. I need to get to know my people, don't I? And I'm giving them a chance to see what I'm like."
Keren put his plate and tankard down on the table, smiling at Brydas.
"Give in now, Brydas. I'll tell you now that you will in the end. Garia usually manages to get her own way, as we all have learned." He sat down, indicating the surrounding spaces with a free hand. "She is right today. This is surely an occasion when she will be safe among her own people. Sit, please."
"But, Highness, I thought it might be better, should you both be seated on the wagons where all can see you."
"Master Brydas, this may be the custom in some noble halls but I can assure you that in the palace, the King sits - as I do today - in the middle of the table and those surrounding him change at every meal." Keren grinned. "Of course, it would be unwise of any to refuse the Queen the chance to sit next to the King, as you may imagine."
Garia had now sat down and reached out a hand for the fork which Jenet held out to her.
"It's true," she confirmed. "The King is still the King but he tries very hard not to be cut off from anyone. I quite like it, actually. It makes for a very friendly family atmosphere at table."
With a certain amount of muttering Brydas joined the others as they all sat either side of the long table. Jepp joined them, sitting opposite Merizel.
"You have a very good writing style, milady," he told her. "We had much to record today and your writing is quite legible, even though we were in haste."
"Thank you, Master Jepp," she replied. "From a Master Scribe that is praise indeed."
"She is Garia's secretary," Keren explained, "and this presently involves much recording of all that the Baroness tells us. We also have palace scribes, Quick Scribes, who record all the more formal meetings and demonstrations which she attends but Lady Merizel performs an essential function at milady's court. She is well used to haste in her work."
With Merizel's praises in their ears they began to eat. Brydas noticed the immediate difference.
"Highness, what are those you use? I have not seen that tool in your hand before but it looks a most useful addition to any meal table."
"These are forks, Master Smith." Keren held his out for Brydas to inspect. "This was the first novelty which Milady Garia described us when she joined us at the palace."
"Ah. I might have guessed, Highness. I gather these are common in your homeland, milady?"
"Oh, yes, Master Brydas. Would you like to make some?"
"Tools of the table are not my specialty, milady, but I have a journeyman who would be happy to copy what I see here. If I have your consent, milady?"
"Of course, Master Smith. There is such a huge demand for these in the rest of Palarand right now you might as well begin making your own. I'll see if we can find one you may borrow. Of course, we use them all the time so that might be difficult."
"Heh," Keren chuckled, "What she isn't telling you is that she holds a design license on forks, courtesy of the Queen. A twentieth of the price goes to the Guildhall and a twentieth goes to Garia."
"Is that so?" Brydas raised an eyebrow as he studied Garia, his expression gradually changing into a smile. "Ah, now I understand what milady meant when she said that she desired no coin from Blackstone. If every person in Palarand owns but one of these then milady must soon become rich." He nodded. "If I am right about these... forks... then I will gladly pay the design fee."
Brydas returned the fork to Keren and they set about eating their lunches. Behind them, as people came through the carriage entrance into the courtyard, some did a double-take on seeing their Prince and Baroness eating in the middle of the crowd, expressions which changed on many to smiles and nods of approval. Soon the yard was filled with people eating at all the tables, the talk a low hum in the background. Out of respect for Keren and Garia nobody chose to join their own table but one or two did stop by to introduce themselves.
"I have had a thought, Master Brydas," Garia said, putting her fork down. "Is there anyone in this town who can sketch faces? Anyone we might get here for this afternoon, maybe?"
"Why, milady, there are one or two I may name." He frowned with concentration. "I take it you wish someone to make an image of Trogan's face, since Trogan himself may not be with us for much longer."
Garia nodded. "Yes, that's exactly it. What I was thinking was, perhaps we can send a picture with Jaxen to Tranidor and see if anyone there can recognize him." She grimaced. "I'm fairly sure his name isn't really Trogan but I can't think of a way to get him to tell us who and what he really is."
"You could keep him a while," Keren suggested, "see if a little torture can make him talk."
Garia shook her head. "That's not very likely to work, Keren. He knows as well as any of us that once his usefulness is ended he's for the rope. There's no incentive to tell us anything we really need to know."
"But what do we need to know, milady?" Jepp asked. "Surely, all the townspeople can identify him in person today, there is no possibility we have the wrong person. The man will soon be dead whatever his real name might be."
"Both Juddas and Brakkis told us they took some of their ill-gotten gains to Tranidor, so presumably they have confederates there. If there are others we can go after, then a picture of Trogan will be of some help."
Jepp and Brydas both nodded. Brydas said, "You make a good point, milady. I shall find two or three who can sit near the front of the crowd and draw for us. Do you think we will need images of the other two, as they were among those who traveled to Tranidor?"
"If we can manage it, Master Brydas." Garia turned to Merizel and smiled. "Merry, have you that never-ending list near to hand? I want to speak to Master Hurdin when we get back concerning the subject of photography."
Trogan had entertained ideas of sowing uncertainty among the townspeople by casting doubt on the legitimacy of the two 'children' who had brought his reign to an end. These ideas had collapsed immediately the moment he had caught sight of Garia's standard hanging over the street as he was brought, roughly, along the sidewalk. No-one would go to the trouble of having a standard like that prepared if their claim was not legitimate. So, it appeared, the remainder of his life was to be measured in bells only.
He was surprised to be taken in the front door of the Ptuvil's Claw, which as far as he knew was still derelict. When he and his men had arrived in Blackstone he had considered making it his base before deciding that moving in with the Steward was a better, more 'legitimate' plan. Inside the Claw the common room was empty, as he had expected. He was not expecting to be taken straight through and out the rear entrance where the courtyard was filled with townspeople waiting his appearance. He was pulled along the covered walkway and up some steep steps onto a stage made from wagon beds. On the stage were the two children together with Brydas, Jepp, another young woman and more guards. He was pushed roughly onto a bench.
"This man is known to us as Trogan," Brydas declared to the crowd. "Who here accuses him?"
Most of the crowd remained seated but put up their hands. Garia stood and walked to the front of the stage.
"Okay, let's get a list of the crimes this man is said to have committed."
Trogan curled his lip as townsman after townsman - and townswoman after townswoman - detailed threats of extortion, confiscations, beatings and assaults both physical and sexual. He watched as Jepp and the other young woman wrote down details of every crime and the names of all those who that crime had been committed against.
Jepp stood up. "Milady, we also have to add the repeated rape of the young girls Kasinna and Senidet to the sheet of charges. These crimes are confirmed both by the other persons noted during their earlier testimony but also the accused Brakkis and Juddas."
Garia turned to Trogan, addressing him directly for the first time.
"Trogan, we can read out the accounts of multiple rapes, which everyone here has already heard, or you can admit them now. Do you wish to do so?"
He sneered at Garia. "I don't have to say anything to you, child. It is up to you to find me guilty of something."
Garia was nettled. "I'm no child. I came of age two months ago, at the same ceremony when His Highness Prince Keren came of age. I received my colors from the hands of the King himself. I am quite capable of holding my own court, thank you. In fact, the laws of Palarand require that I do so. There is already enough evidence before the court to condemn you. If you wish to waste the court's time by having us read over more evidence then that will count against you."
In fact Garia was beginning to realize that Trogan might be a tough customer. Just as there were difficult lawyers in Kansas so Trogan didn't have to lift a finger to help the court. In fact, the longer he could string out matters the longer he could draw breath and everyone in the courtyard knew that.
"Milady?" Jepp intervened. "I suggest we just read out the testimony. It will avail him nothing to hear all the details."
Garia waved a hand. "As you suggest, Master Jepp."
The entire courtyard listened in complete silence as Jepp read out first Kasinna's statement, then Senidet's statement, followed by the confirmation by Juddas and Brakkis of their - and Trogan's - part in the attacks.
When the accounts were finished Garia swung to Jepp, her eyes flat.
"Then it shall be so. Is there anything else?"
"Aye, milady. Intercepting and opening letters and packets carried by the Valley Messenger Service."
"Oh, yes. Not hard to work out the sentence for that one, is there? Death."
"What for?" Trogan protested. "All I did was legal."
"It might be argued that you had legitimate authority to open the steward's mail," Garia told him, "though only mail addressed to the Steward as an official, not the man personally. You had no business at all opening any mail addressed to Baroness Blackstone. Nor did any of you have authority to transport mail between here and that roadhouse on the way to Tranidor. Death. Anything else?"
"Several items, milady. The holding of hostages, against all law and custom."
"As you say. None of those you held in the cells, Trogan, have ever been accused of any crime or misdemeanor, or if you did you forgot to write down the charges as the law requires. You held the girls only to stop complaints by their parents, nothing more. We have found nothing to indicate why any of the men were held. The penalty, Master Scribe?"
"An unusual crime, milady. The holding of hostages is only something the King or a noble would normally undertake and that by decree. Trogan does not have the authority to issue decrees, so he is guilty of exercising authority he does not possess. Death, milady."
Trogan curled his lip as Garia nodded. "It shall be so."
"Next, milady, there is the attempted murder by starvation of those townspeople who he imprisoned. That crime is also punishable by death."
"I fed those people!" Trogan protested. "They each had at least a meal a day."
"Milady," Jepp said, "as one of those imprisoned I can testify personally that the food offered was inadequate and very poorly made. The amounts supplied would not have been sufficient for two people, they could not possibly have fed six."
"I have seen with my own eyes the state of those we released," Garia said. "I declare the accusation proven. Death. What's next?"
"Uh, impersonating an appointed official, milady. We have testimony that this man is not, in fact, the Tax Assessor named as Trogan but another who possibly murdered the said Trogan."
Garia spun to Trogan. "What have you to say to that?"
Trogan sneered again. "Why do I have to say anything? You've all made up your minds what happened, I'm not going to be able to say anything to make you change them."
"You don't deny the charge?"
"Of course I deny the charge. I am known as and have always been known as Trogan. I was appointed by the Lord Gilbanar himself to come to Blackstone and oversee the collection of taxes here, at the most remote part of his lands. It might be true that some of my methods -"
"Now that part is certainly false," Keren interrupted. "You may not know this but we have just traveled directly from Dekarran where we stayed five weeks as guests of Duke Gilbanar together with my parents the King and Queen. It's strange that while Uncle Gil mentioned many of those he knew in Blackstone he never once mentioned a Tax Assessor named Trogan." He thought. "Or any Tax Assessor at all, thinking on it."
Trogan immediately rounded on the crowd, knowing his cause was lost.
"Look at you! Mindless pakh, the lot of you! I came here with my men and you believed me for half a year, half a year when we bled you dry! Now you have this witless girl to rule you, a child who knows next to nothing about how to get coin out of people." He turned to Keren. "And you, petty princeling, you had better hope your father lives a long time so that you can try and scrape up enough wisdom to follow him."
Keren started up, furious at the insult, but Garia held out a hand to calm him.
"No, Highness. He's trying to get you angry and turn this into a contest of honor. There is no honor in this man and he would not win a contest against you in the ring, but this is a court of law and I mean to make sure that he is treated as the criminal he is."
Trogan sneered at Garia. "If this is the best that Palarand can offer its people I'm glad I'm leaving. The King has made a big mistake giving this poor backwater to a child, she can only ruin you."
Much to Trogan's surprise neither Prince nor Baroness seemed offended by his words, in fact, the crowd weren't as upset as he had intended either.
Keren smiled at Garia. "He doesn't know, does he? Nobody bothered to tell him why we came."
"That's true, Highness." Garia stood and walked in front of Trogan, keeping a safe distance. "You see, Trogan, there are some facts you don't know yet. Blackstone may be a poor backwater now, as you said, but it is about to become a rich, bustling town thronged with miners. You see, we've discovered a use for all that black stone. It seems that it can be used to make high-quality steel in quantity. In a few years we'll be pulling so much rock out of here I can charge next to nothing and still have more money than I know what to do with."
Her expression became a fierce stare as the bottom fell out of Trogan's world.
"I am no 'witless girl', either. The King saw fit to make me Baroness Blackstone because, where I come from, knowledge is more advanced than here and I offered to share it all with Palarand. I know stuff you couldn't possibly dream of, and I can prove that it's no dream either but good, solid invention that will change the face of Palarand in time."
"Fantasy!" Trogan blustered. "Sheer, childish fantasy!"
"Hm," Keren said. "My father didn't think so, and neither apparently does the Ascendancy of Yod, who have made several attempts to kidnap the Baroness." There were gasps from the audience. "I have seen enough of Milady's ideas to know that the future of Palarand, our future, will be very different than the past. She has shown that she can tame lightning and has changed the practice of astronomy forever. She can fight with or without a sword and can ride a frayen like no-one else I have ever met. There are things... forgive me, this is not appropriate for a criminal court."
Jepp coughed. "Highness, if your intent was to demonstrate that Milady was a fit person to hold this court, then you have succeeded." He pointed at Trogan, who sat like a man stunned.
"Do we take it," Garia asked Jepp, "that Trogan has admitted to not being a legally-appointed official?"
Jepp looked down at his papers. "I'm not sure, milady -"
"I admit nothing!" shouted Trogan, but his face was pale.
"Ah, milady," Jepp said, "We have testimony, you remember, from Juddas, who stated positively that the man we know as Trogan is not, in fact, that man."
"Is that enough?" she asked. "Do we know what the penalty would be?"
Jepp frowned. "I think, technically, he ought to be held and taken before a higher authority, milady. If he is supposed to be impersonating an appointed official, then it ought to go to the court of the noble who is said to have appointed him."
Garia nodded but scowled. She wanted the business finished with.
Keren said, "Would a Prince of the Realm do, Master Jepp?"
"I - I'm not sure, Highness."
Keren turned. "Merry, have you that document in your bag? The one Uncle Gil gave me in case of need?"
"Of course, Highness."
Merizel rummaged in her satchel, pulling out documents and examining them. One she passed to Jepp, who opened and read it.
"Ah. This document," he read to the audience, "is a decree signed and sealed by Duke Gilbanar allowing His Highness Prince Keren to act as his Agent in any matter that the Prince shall so determine, and with the Duke's full authority. That means that he can act as that higher authority I mentioned before. Thank you, Highness."
He folded the document and returned it to Merizel, who put it back in her satchel.
Keren turned to Garia. "With Milady's permission?"
"Of course, Highness."
"Then I shall resolve this question in the following way. Either the man known as Trogan is legally appointed, in which case he has grossly usurped the authority given to him, or he is an imposter, in which case he is nothing but a thief and a robber. For either case I determine that the sentence should be death, since no official should behave in such a manner before the people they serve and if he is nothing but a thief and a robber the list of his crimes is too great to permit otherwise.
"This shall also serve as a deterrent to all others who think that any document gives them the right to leech the people who make this land. To levy taxes for the safety and security of the people, to provide them good roads, clean water and good drainage is one thing, to take money and provide no return is criminal. I have spoken. Milady, is this sufficient?"
"Highness, it is. Trogan is condemned to death. Have we done enough, Master Jepp?"
Jepp shrugged. "Milady, we could probably spend several bells more convicting the man known as Trogan but... the afternoon passes and he can be executed only once."
Garia smiled. "That's not quite true, actually." Jepp's eyes widened. "I can remember some stories from home... but that's not important right now. I have no doubt of the man's guilt, I just wanted to make sure that the townspeople saw justice being done." She turned to the crowd. "Have I done this right? Are you satisfied with today's proceedings?"
The response came back, not synchronized, but growing like an amplified murmur.
"Take him away, then, and secure him somewhere."
A struggling Trogan was hoisted to his feet and led to the steps. It proved difficult to get him to descend and he ended up in a heap at the bottom. Two guardsmen dragged him away as Garia turned to Brydas and Jepp.
"Okay. What do we need to do next? Is there a process we have to follow?"
Brydas spoke first. "Milady, the carpenter and his boys are erecting a suitable frame down by the river bridge. I remember you saying earlier that occasionally criminals were executed in your homeland. Do you know how such executions are carried out?"
"It varies, Master Brydas. Um, most are methods we can't use here, though. What options are there in these cases, Jepp?"
"I don't know how you execute people in Palarand. What are the usual methods? I know you hang people, because we sentenced Juddas and Brakkis to hang."
"There are a large variety, milady. I am no expert, though. Perhaps His Highness has better information?"
Keren nodded. "There are a large number of ways, Garia, depending on circumstances usually. You can't for example, set up a gallows during a battle." He shrugged. "They have been chained to a rock at low tide. Or chained to a weight and thrown over the side of a ship. We used to -" he gave a wry smile, "- it occurs to me that many of our methods involve chaining people to things. At Dekarran, when it was the capitol, the custom was to take the condemned up the mountain at the back and chain them to a rock for grakh to feed on. We stopped doing that since the grakh couldn't tell the difference between condemned men and anyone else, and we didn't want them to have a taste for the flesh of people."
"What happened if the grakh didn't come?" she asked.
Keren shrugged. "They'll take carrion as easily as live flesh. I have heard of cases of people being chained to their own funeral pyres - while still alive, of course. And one case of someone chained at the bottom of a latrine during an expedition." He expression became one of distaste. "We're not pleasant people, sometimes."
"Do you behead people?" she asked.
"Very rarely, Garia. It is supposed to be something reserved for nobility but I cannot remember the last time that method was used. Most who die these days are hung. It is the method that involves the least time and effort."
"Very well. Master Brydas, will you inform the people that the sentence will be carried out shortly and the place."
"As you command, milady."
Brydas turned to face the crowd and his voice boomed out. That was a general signal for everybody to stand, make obeisance to Keren and Garia and begin filing slowly out of the courtyard.
"Milady, there is a final task for you."
"You must sign orders of execution for each man who is to die. It will take Milady Merizel and myself a short time to create these documents, which are customarily signed at the site of execution."
"Oh. Right. Do you need anything from me?"
"Actually, milady, we will need your seal for the orders to become valid."
"My seal? I don't have a seal."
"Surely, milady, you would have been given a seal when you were made baroness? It is required whenever you make orders or decrees in your own name."
"Then I guess there must be one, but if so it will still be in the palace somewhere. Keren?"
"Probably Kendar gave the order to Fulvin to prepare one for you, Garia, but given the disruption that happened before we left I doubt it has been finished." Keren balled his right hand into a fist and presented it to the scribe. "Master Jepp, will this do?"
"Your signet, Highness," Jepp observed. "Of course, that will certainly be sufficient."
"Then, gentlemen," Garia decided, "if you don't mind, I have to pay a visit. Jenet? We're going to the bathroom. We'll meet you back here in a few moments."
"Of course, milady."
It was a very short walk from the Ptuvil's Claw back down the main street to the bridge over the tiny river that flowed out of Blackstone Vale. On the level ground beside the river, below the bridge, two poles had been erected into existing holes made in the rock, wedges of wood holding them firmly upright. Across the poles at about five strides up another had been firmly lashed. This pole had three thick iron staples embedded in it from which rope nooses dangled. The other ends of the ropes were secured around temporary pegs on the uprights.
The townspeople parted to allow Garia, Keren, Jenet and Brydas to gain access to the clear space in front of the gallows. Awaiting them were Merizel and Jepp who stood by a small folding table on which were reeds, ink, parchment and a small lamp. Garia turned to examine the scene.
The townspeople occupied every vantage point except that immediately behind the scaffold. Many were on the other side of the river and others lined the stone bridge. The rest stood on the ground next to the road and the rocky ground beyond the scaffold, where the lowest buildings of the town began. This time there were some present who hadn't made the trial. Garia could see women and children, although there were none of the latter below about age six or seven. The whole crowd was silent, waiting for the proceedings to begin.
"What are we waiting for?" Garia asked Brydas in a low voice.
"If you are satisfied that all is prepared, milady, then we shall begin."
"Well, I don't know what I'm expecting. I've never done this before."
Brydas smiled. "Then I will tell you that all is ready, milady."
He held up an arm and three small two-wheel carts came down the main street, each pulled by a single frayen. They came into the cleared area and turned so that each cart ended up under a noose, the frayen pointing back into town. The drivers climbed down and unhitched the tail boards of each cart, revealing that the three men were inside, each bound hand and foot to prevent escape.
"Milady," Brydas asked, "do you wish all to be executed together, or one at a time?"
Garia thought. "Let's not drag this out," she decided, "but we'll keep Trogan till last. The people deserve that."
Brydas gave orders and men climbed onto the two outer carts, manhandling the two men into standing positions and holding them up while nooses were slipped over their necks and tightened.
"Milady," Jepp said quietly. "You must sign the orders now."
Garia bent, dipped reed into ink and signed the first order. She looked at the parchment with puzzlement until she realized that she had signed in English, using Gary's regular signature.
"Oh! I shouldn't have done that! Let me have another go. Have I ruined this order now?"
"What have you done, milady?" Jepp asked as he bent to see the document.
Keren said, "She has signed it in her own tongue, Master Jepp. She wishes to re-sign it in our script as well."
"Oh, I see. I think, milady, that whatever you wish to do shall be legal. If you desire I shall make a small note explaining the extra entry."
"Yes, thank you."
Garia re-signed, slowly, in the local script and then signed the second order. Jepp used the lamp to melt some sealing wax with which he trapped a strip of ribbon threaded through cuts in each square of parchment. Keren used his signet ring to set the wax.
"It is done. Milady, shall I give the order?"
I'm about to do something irrevocable. This is not about defending myself in the heat of battle but of me issuing an order which is about to end somebody's life. In the US people kill other people all the time but it's never like this. Only a Governor gets to do this.
She scanned round the waiting crowds, seeing the faces of people who Trogan's gang had terrorized. None seemed eager to have the executions but all knew that such things were necessary to prevent their lives being ruined by others.
Because I just happen to be the person the King decided to award this place to as a token of his trust in me. None of us knew any of this was happening here when we started out. This could have been anybody and any town, it just chanced to be me.
She sighed. "Do it."
Instead of the heavy spars used to support the tailboards in the courtyard each was propped up by a single length of timber with a thin rope attached to the upper end. When Brydas's arm dropped men at the sides pulled the ropes, the timber fell away, the tailboards dropped - and so did the men standing on them. Both were jerked up before their feet reached the ground. One died immediately, the other twitched spasmodically for a second or two before falling limp.
"Milady, the last order, if you would."
As she bent to sign Brydas signaled the men and they hauled Trogan upright. He kicked and twisted in their grip, making it difficult to position him on the tailboard. He shouted out loudly.
"You will come to regret this, little girl." He rounded on the townspeople. "And you, you are little better than a flock of pakh, being led wherever that child wishes to take you. I hope you all have short, miserable lives!"
Bryudas watched the men struggling on the cart and murmured to Garia, "He makes his own end a struggle, milady. Shall we quieten him?"
Garia looked up and watched the action. It seemed that preparing the tailboard would be difficult given Trogan's movements. Garia could begin to feel the red mist beginning to rise.
How dare he? These are my people he violated! This is my town. Let him suffer!
"Master Jepp, Master Brydas, do we have to drop that man? Can we just let him swing? I want the townspeople to see him suffer a little."
Brydas looked at her carefully. "Milady? Certainly, if that is what you wish. Are you sure?"
She turned to him. "I'm not sure I like doing this at all, Master Brydas. I don't plan to make a habit of executing people. But, just this once, I think the harm done by this man to my people, my town, demands a little bit of payback, don't you think?"
The smith returned her look, his expression grim. "Aye, milady, in this I think I will agree. Jepp, is there any reason..?"
"No, Brydas. She can execute her condemned men any way she so desires."
Brydas turned to Garia, who said, "Do it."
The smith walked over to the cart and had some words with the men surrounding it. Very soon the area cleared and Trogan was left standing on the bed of the cart, his head held firmly by a taut rope, the loop too tight for him to speak any more. Brydas dropped his arm and the cart driver simply drove away, leaving Trogan suspended in the air.
The rope quivered and twitched for many heartbeats as the load it carried struggled for life. Then the twitching stopped and there were no more heartbeats.
The crowd began to disperse quietly. They had come to see justice done and their wish had been fulfilled. No more would Trogan and his gang rule Blackstone. Garia turned to Keren.
"Take me away from this, please. I think I need some time to be quiet by myself."
The moment they entered the courtyard of the Bell Garia wrapped her arms around Keren, who gathered her in.
"Keren, that was hard. I feel awful. Even knowing what that man did I still feel terrible for having to take a life."
"I feel the same myself," he told her. "I have long watched my father dispense the power of life and death but watching someone else do it is not the same. Watching you make that decision has made me realize what a terrible power we have over other men's lives. One day I will have to exercise that same power and I will like it no better than you. We must thank the Maker that this part of the history of Blackstone is now over and we may consider gentler questions."
"Not so, remember there are still two out there somewhere. They won't worry the town again, they'll always be fugitives, but it's not quite over." She buried her face in his chest. "Oh, God. I get to do this all over again?"
"This is part of what it means to become a noble," he told her softly. "Our lives are beset by the endless making of decisions. This will be part of your lot from now on, though I expect that you will have to face few days like today ever again. When you are at home in the palace you may leave such work to those who are prepared for it."
"True." She looked up at him. "But Blackstone is mine and only I can determine life or death for these people unless Uncle Gil or the King comes to call." She hesitated. "I'm afraid, Keren. Afraid I... might get used to it."
He looked down, considering. "Aye," he said finally, "that is a danger, that one so becomes used to the wielding of such power that one forgets there are real people who suffer because of it."
"Like Duke Jarwin, for example."
"As you say. He did not execute people but he caused as much distress in the lives of all he touched. We who hold power also must bear responsibility for our actions. I think that is also my lesson from today's business and one I must needs remember when the day comes that I succeed my father."
"Keren, this is all too soon! To become a judge in the criminal court takes a long time and lots of study and experience. Back in Kansas I would probably have been just out of high school or just beginning college by now. I'd have at least three years of college, probably more, before I qualified as a lawyer and then I'd spend the next fifteen to twenty years at a law firm - that is, a company of lawyers - before I was anywhere near qualified to become a judge. Even then I'd only be judging the lesser criminal cases, not capital offences as I've had to do today. As it is I'm barely a know-nothing child dealing with unfamiliar customs. I'm not ready for any of this!"
Garia tried to pull clear but Keren held her.
"No. I don't think it would be such a good idea for you to be by yourself right now. Come, let us go into the common room, find ourselves a corner and just rest quietly among friends until dinner is ready. That will serve better to turn our minds to more pleasant thoughts."
Garia relaxed because she knew Keren was right. She had gotten through the day on auto-pilot and it was obvious that there would be a reckoning to come. She so wanted to go and hide in a dark corner somewhere but also recognized that would not be a smart thing to do. These people needed her! Besides, she valued Keren's opinion - and his touch, his concerned attention. At least his thought processes were clear!
"As you say, Keren."
Inside, the common room was busy but the locals were subdued. Theirs was a close-knit community and all had suffered by Trogan's actions but they, too, were ambivalent over the taking of lives. There seemed to be a quiet satisfaction that their new liege had taken prompt action to correct the situation but the shock of the past few days would have side effects for weeks to come.
Keren and Garia took their seats and they were promptly given mugs of steaming pel by Yanda. They were joined almost immediately by Merizel and Jepp.
"Milady," Jepp began, "I regret there is more signing for you to do. It will be necessary to send copies of those orders to Dekarran, the originals remaining here."
"Yes, I know," Garia sighed. "I'm going to have to write something for Duke Gilbanar as well, I guess. Keren, we'll have to spend at least part of the evening writing so that Jaxen can take the letters in the morning."
Keren nodded. "Aye. It is frightening just how document may spawn document at the least excuse. On Earth, I suspect that paper has much the same effect?"
Garia smiled. "Oh, yes. Everybody curses the mountains of paper we get through. Your turn is yet to come. It will be some time before you can get to the 'paperless office'. We've been trying for some fifty years and we haven't managed it yet."
"'Paperless office'? How is that even possible?"
"More machines, I'm afraid. I'm not sure I can even describe what I mean in ways that any of you can understand right now. Of course I'll talk about it when we get back to the palace but I think computers are going to be a long way off in Anmar's future."
"Milady?" A confused Jepp blinked at Garia.
"It's a long story, Master Jepp, which you are just at the beginning of right now. I'd rather not talk about it in the open, though, because I'll only start all kinds of wild rumors. Let's just say that the changes which are coming to Blackstone came to the lands of my birth more than two hundred years ago."
Jepp looked even more confused but he decided that Garia was right, that talking of such matters would only be misunderstood by those in the common room with them. A swirl of people at the street door and Jaxen and Sukhana joined them at table.
"Highness, Milady," he said. "I watched the executions from afar." He took note of Garia's expression and added, "I think you did well for one so young. I hope the rest of your stay in Blackstone will be much quieter."
"So do I, Jaxen. How are the wagons? Will you be ready to roll out tomorrow morning?"
"Of course, milady. It seems I will be carrying some quantity of letters from Blackstone, as many of the townsfolk wish to contact family and friends in Tranidor and beyond. There are also orders for provisions and supplies from many of the traders and I will be taking three with me who wish to travel to the town for business." He smiled. "I shall not charge excessive rates but the return journey will more than cover any costs. However," he added, "I fear that there will be more than two wagons on the journey back. Certain essential supplies are scarce in Blackstone and will take more than a single wagon. This is of little concern to yourselves, of course, so long as the goods arrive in time and undamaged."
"You know your own business best, Jaxen. We're not going to interfere. Just so long as we have a regular link with the rest of Palarand." Garia turned. "Sookie? What brings you across the street?"
"Milady, we have had two beds delivered today with the promise of two more in the morning. If you wished, you could move across tomorrow."
"Four? But... who is going to use them?"
"The Prince, yourself, Milady Merizel and Mistress Jenet, milady. Presently I am sleeping on a bed made from sacks of flour." She waved her hands at the expressions the others made. "Do not worry for me, milady! I have many times slept in such a way while with the caravans. I am promised my own bed frame in two days so I do not mind."
"If you say so, Sookie. What about food?"
"There is no problem, milady. The use of the kitchen range with coal is... interesting. The ovens are hotter and it makes better bread than I have eaten anywhere else. We have supplies for all for a week to ten days and Jaxen will bring us anything from Tranidor we cannot find locally."
"Keren? Shall we move over tomorrow sometime?"
"I don't see why not, Garia. After all, your banner flies over the Ptuvil's Claw, doesn't it? We all need to get back to routine now that the unpleasant business is finished. It will be a good idea to get us all under the same roof as our men, as well."
"Oh, yes! I can't wait to get back to doing Tai Chi and trying out our makeshift mat idea in the yard. Then we can get back to what we were supposed to be doing when we arrived here..." She stopped, lowered her head and rested her forehead in her hands. "Oh, no! I've just realized! I'm going to be spending days introducing myself to everyone, aren't I? Am I expected to hold audiences and dinners for the town? I don't know these things!"
Keren smiled. "Only if you want to, Garia, but I think the townspeople would like a little attention."
Jepp cleared his throat. "Milady, I think that the people of Blackstone will all want to meet you, especially after... I do not think you will find our attentions to be onerous, though. We know that you are young, that you will be busy and that you have plans of your own. You are our liege, we will accept whatever you wish to give."
"Thank you, Master Jepp. Let us get settled in across the road and then we can try and organize something."
Yanda came to their table, nodding to Sukhana, a slate and chalk in her hand.
"Highness, Milady. Since you are all here, I can serve you dinner." She smiled at them. "What may I get you all to eat and drink?"
Jenet's whisper was loud in the quiet of the night. Garia turned over to face her.
"I'm all right, Jenet. Can't sleep easy, though."
"You are worried by what happened today, milady?"
Merizel's snores filled the room as Garia tried to collect her thoughts.
"Who wouldn't be? Part of me thinks that what happened today was dead right, another part would rather I didn't get involved at all."
"Ah. Milady, it is part of being a noblewoman. Your path is tougher that that of, say, Lady Merizel's, since you are the liege in this place. You are still very young to have such deeds thrust on you but I know you have a good heart and your rule should become easier as the days progress. Do you wish me to find something that will help you sleep easier?"
"Uh, no thank you, Jenet. I gotta learn how to deal with this myself, I guess, since this won't be the last time. At least it's over now and we can get back to normal."
"As you say, milady. Good night."
"Good night, Jenet."
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