XII. TRIALTHE BATTLE WAS joined before Jer’ok was ever brought before the court. He simply refused to don the clothes the barrister provided. Privately, Palard Westonheath was overjoyed. His case was about to be made right here in the prisoner’s cell. But he was fully prepared to play out his own role.
“My Lord Charwick, decorum requires a certain formality of dress. The peoples of Gemini expect their leaders to be resplendent with the insignia of their rank. You, my lord, are a Prince of the Hua. And so you should dress.”
Even the experienced barrister was stunned when the prisoner approached the fortified bars to stand before him at his full height and dignity. For the first time in Westonheath’s experience his client deigned to speak to him in a voice pitched low but filling the antechambre of his cell. What he said was not entirely in Tae. Some of it sounded like primal growlings from the forest held at bay beyond the limits of the Settlement.
“No. Jer’ok is of the Aranda. He has killed as an Aranda buck. He will enter long sleep as an Aranda buck.”
Westonheath easily suppressed an inward smile. This was just what he was looking for, but already he wondered if this was a thing he and his partner could keep under control. The menace of the growling man was extraordinary even though he made no gesture of threat.
“I am here to see to it that you do not ‘enter long sleep,’” Westonheath neither backed away nor flinched, although one or two of the waiting guards almost took a step or two away from the menace which had remained powerfully latent over these past weeks. “This is a trial, not an execution. But I warn you, Lord Charwick, the court will not allow an animal before the bar. This subterfuge will fail.”
But, in truth, the barrister already knew it was no subterfuge. More, he was counting on its success, and Jer’ok was giving him what he had been hoping would transpire.
“Wear these, my lord,” and once again Palard thrust the formal attire through the bars. But the man within simply turned his back on them and retired to the farthermost corner of his cell.
“Very well,” the barrister conceded apparent defeat. “But you will pass the trial in isolation if you attempt to enter the presence of the court in that,” with a wave of his free hand Palard Westonheath indicated the loincloth that afforded the man little suggestion of modesty, let alone decorum.
With that the prisoner revealed a sense of humour none of the observers of this small episode had known he possessed, “Then, perhaps, I should go before these k’aranda naked.” And he was about to divest himself of the slight clothing he wore until Westonheath actually burst out laughing.
“Spare us that, my lord,” The barrister sobered instantly and fixed a calculating eye on his client, “But, perhaps, you should accept what the guards are offering to cover you. You can remove it at your discretion.” And he left the prisoner to be brought to the court by his bemused guards. This Jer’ok was indeed a man of tremendous intelligence, just as Amber and, more recently, Commandant Locke had been insisting. Nor was Jer’ok without a certain wily cunning. Westonheath hastened to apprise Dryan Estwick of the developments. The barrister hoped they were not risking their careers along with the life of their client.
Jer’ok waited. He cast one last scornful glance at the formal attire the Chimurian had left hanging outside his cell before turning his baleful gaze on his guards. In another moment the energy field was dampened and the door of his cell opened for the first time since he had been conducted into the presence of the Chimurian and Amber. Despite himself, the beast-man tensed for a frantic bolt into freedom or immediate death. But the alert guards allowed him no openings. Still, he refused the clothing, but the battle to keep the men from draping him with the garment they had forced over his head once before was not worth fighting. Jer’ok would conserve his strength until he was certain it would serve him as he intended. He would also have refused the manacles, but that battle too would serve no end but to lessen the savage dignity he would maintain above all else.
With brisk efficiency the edgy contingent led Jer’ok from the cell and pressed him through the intricate route to the court. A well kept secret from those who might interfere with the imposition of justice, most of the route was isolated and allowed no contact with the outside. At one point, however, egress was necessary for the space of only a few metres. Here again Jer’ok’s will-power was strained to its utmost limit as, after so many weeks of deprivation, the beast-man’s senses were nearly overwhelmed with the myriad of scents wafted on Mael from the surrounding jungle. The only outlet in his cell was hardly that: for a portion of each day a skylight high overhead allowed the full force of the Gemini suns to reach a prisoner nearly desperate for natural sensations. Now, the beast-man could not check a momentary hesitation but had moved out again before his escort had time to react.
In another few moments Jer’ok was conducted to a tiny, stifling chambre with no windows and scant air. There he was seated and his manacles fastened securely to the arms of an immovable chair. As an added precaution, his ankles were fastened to shackles circling the chair’s base. He could not move.
And there Jer’ok waited for them to bring him before their leaders and steal from him what they had left of his life. But this was not to be the day.
AS THE CROWDED courtroom resettled itself following the entrance of the presiding chancellor, the matter they had all been long awaiting was called.
“The case of the Throne of Chimur and the Chimurian Throne’s Territory of Ashtar against Leede Southerly, Lord Charwick, Prince of the Hua,” the sergeant-bailiff intoned; “Let the accused be brought before his lordship, Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne.
A hush had hardly fallen over the echo of the stentorian tones before Solicitor Dryan Estwick was on his feet: “The defence protests, my lord chancellor.” He turned to the bailiff standing guard at the access to the courtroom from the holding cell before that man could open the door.
Without rapping his gavel, the chancellor glared the buzzing courtroom into silence. He then turned his glare first onto Estwick and then from Barrister Westonheath to the beautifully dressed and completely composed woman seated at his side. The chancellor consulted his notes. Here was no up and coming member of the others’ firm. This woman could only be the lady-wife of the accused. He looked up from his notes to study her at some length. To his surprise, the woman met his stare and held it with neither hint of intimidation nor any overt suggestion of insolence in her manner. If Montayne had been required to characterise what he saw in her countenance, it would only be serenity. He could have no idea the self-discipline Amber Southerly required to maintain that illusion.
“What is the meaning of this, Solicitor, why are you addressing this court? Barrister?”
“Perhaps we may approach the bench, my lord,” Estwick suggested.
“Please do,” the chancellor’s tone suggested there had better be good reason for this seeming breach of proper procedure. The prosecutor joined them, as puzzled as Montayne.
“I wish to offer a motion in limine, your lordship.”
“I protest,” was hardly out of the prosecutor’s mouth when the chancellor demanded, “I will see you all in my chambres, now. Sergeant, . . . .” And Reter Montayne was on his feet and out of the courtroom in a black swirl of robes before the stunned gallery could scramble to its collective feet.
“The wrong man has been brought before the court, my lord,” Dryan Estwick began.
Before the chancellor could respond, the prosecution was on its feet, “This is outrageous, my lord, of course the right man is being brought before you. And the Throne has every intention of demonstrating that this Leede Southerly, for all his high rank, has indulged in a pattern of remorseless killing, both here and, we have every reason to believe, on Chimur as well. We will show that this particular murder was particularly heinous and it will stand in for all the other acts of violence this man has perpetrated over a lifetime of violent acts. We will show that he is a dangerous beast of a man, capable of committing treason more than once. If he goes free, none of us knows what he will be capable of inflicting . . . . ” The prosecutor had finally taken heed of the expression on Reter Montayne’s face. And he suspected he had just made a highly damaging admission.
“Are you quite through? Yes? If so, I will hear what Estwick has to say – at this rather late date.”
“Yes, your lordship,” Dryan began, “but we wanted to be certain before we brought this matter before the court. We further think it wise to do so out of the hearing of the gallery. As you are aware, we have chosen to waive our client’s right to a jury, and our colleague,” with that he bowed slightly in the direction of the subsiding and mildly chastened Jaymor Sanbairryn, “has graciously acceded to that waiver. There is a reason we are turning to the wisdom of this court, and this morning that reason was demonstrated to us in full and leaving no room for further doubt.”
“Go on,” the chancellor demanded with no more than a glance toward Sanbairryn. “What is your motion, solicitor?”
“We will be moving for dismissal on the grounds to be established in this instant motion in limine. We will demonstrate to your lordship that the individual before this court and the individual who slew Derk Aliyan is not Leede Southerly.”
Jaymor Sanbairryn snorted, evoking another glare from the grand chancellor.
“Further,” Estwick continued, “he is not human at all.”
Chancellor and prosecution glared as one at Estwick and Westonheath. Then Montayne sighed a heavy sigh. “Sergeant,” he summoned. When the man appeared at the door, Montayne looked up, “Clear the courtroom. We are adjourned until tomorrow.”
The motion in limine failed. But the stage had been set. Westonheath and Estwick had yet to deplete their store of surprises. There was an urgently whispered conference with Amber and she left with a nod. The hint of a smile was permitted to touch her lips.
WITHOUT EXPLANATION THE outer door of his place of confinement opened. Jer’ok looked up warily. No word was spoken as he was released from the chair, re-shackled and hustled back to his cell. It took all the guards and more brutality than they were accustomed to inflicting to return the prisoner to his cell. In the end it had been necessary to resort to the tranquilising dart.
When Jer’ok returned to his senses, he was certain he was hallucinating. From outside the bars Amber was watching him. The guards were nowhere to be seen. Aching with loneliness and not quite trusting what his eyes were revealing to him, the beast-man approached his mate.
“Palard Westonheath tells me you will not wear the Chimurian clothing we have provided.” When he declined to respond to the obvious, Amber went on, “Will you appear before them as the war-chief of the Sanaca? Darad has provided the full ceremonial attire.”
Jer’ok studied his mate. He knew he should try to please her, to make some effort to survive this ordeal despite the outcome he knew to be foreordained.
“It would be a lie. No war-chief of the Sanaca killed Derk Aliyan. Jer’ok will not dishonour his Sanaca people.”
Amber touched his hand, and this time he made no effort to withdraw from her touch, “I knew that would be your answer, Jer’ok-ta. I have brought something else. Palard suggests you don these under the prison garb you wore when last we . . . .” She had to stop, and Jer’ok longed to reach out to her, but the field allowed passage inward, not outward. If he grasped the hand with which she was touching him, bitter experience told him the stunning energy would drive him fully across the cell. He would spare them both from that.
“What have you brought, Amber my heart?”
And she opened a small package to show him. For the first time since being thrust in this dismal place, Jer’ok smiled.
THIS TIME WHEN his guards took him from his cell, one or two of them were actually grinning. To his mild surprise they conducted Jer’ok to the courtroom itself. He was allowed to enter through the great doors at the back. And, well coached by Palard Westonheath, only one guard stalked down the crowded aisle behind the prisoner who proceeded without a single glance to his left or his right to his place at the defence table between Westonheath and Amber. There Jer’ok stood straight and tall, inherent pride undiminished by either the manacles or that shapeless prison garment covering him.
There was a gasp from the gallery, quickly stifled with a single look from the chancellor. Once the prisoner was in place, the lone guard with studied ceremony removed the manacles. Jer’ok nodded the gratitude of a lord to his retainer – and swept the shapeless garment over his head to toss it negligently in a heap between the tables of counsel and the bench.
By now prosecution and chancellor were seething, but there was little to be done. All the record would reveal was the entrance of the defendant. The gasps and muttered exclamations spread through the gallery. Supremely indifferent, Jer’ok-ta of the Aranda, clad in nothing more than the decorated loincloth of his people and adorned with the rough decorations dear to Aranda hearts, stood for a moment facing his judge. Then in a smooth move unlike anything humankind, he deigned to accept the waiting chair. The guard moved in, but before he could replace the manacles, Estwick stopped him. A whispered argument ensued which went unheeded by the unperturbed creature now seated with sublime indifference between his defenders.
At last Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne had endured all he was about to accept, “Do it,” he all but hissed at the startled guard. And Jer’ok’s hands were promptly shackled to his chair. But the beast-man was utterly apart from all going on about him; not even the manipulation of his hands drew his attention. His eyes were focused somewhere between his immediate surroundings and the man who would decide whether he was to live or die.
Once the courtroom settled down to conduct the business at hand, Montayne and Sanbairryn were in for one more unpleasant surprise. This time Barrister Palard Westonheath rose before the prosecution could come forward to present his case.
“Yes, Barrister?” Montayne sighed, wondering what would transpire next. The dignity of his courtroom was already in shambles. And there was no one whom he could charge with contempt. Yet.
“We the defence on behalf of the defendant concede that he in fact is the slayer of the Kryptane Derk Aliyan.”
Over the collective gasp from the gallery Jaymor Sanbairryn was heard to utter an obscene oath. Knowing just how he felt, Chancellor Montayne elected to ignore the profane outburst.
“Are you then pleading your client guilty as charged – of murder and of treason? Are you prepared for him to be sentenced here and now, my lord barrister?”
“No, my lord chancellor, but we are prepared to commence his defence, if it please the court.”
It did not please the court, but Montayne looked over to Jaymor Sanbairryn, “My lord prosecutor?”
There was a lengthy pause while Sanbairryn contemplated this newest ploy and consulted with his skilled team of co-counsel. Finally, he rose to ask for a recess for the purpose of consulting with his superiors. He might even have to contact the court at Meridum. He needed time.
All those experienced in the ways of litigation knew very well that the defence had quite cleverly diluted the animosity that was to have been brought to bear on the accused. Of course, if the defence subsequently failed in convincing Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne of its position, Leede Southerly was already as good as dead. It was a desperate but bold move.
Montayne called for yet another recess in the proceedings. At this rate the trial of Leede Southerly, Lord Charwick, Prince of the Hua, would proceed into the next millennium. They would all die of old age before the man could be convicted or acquitted.
JER’OK TOOK NO further part in his trial than does mighty Thera participate in the decisions of his hunter, who alone decides whether that beast’s fate will be illegal circus, the zoological gardens of some backward planet, or some alien sportsman’s grisly collection of trophies. From the very beginning Jer’ok had known his life would be forfeit should he be brought before the so-called justice of Chimur and Gemini. Nothing he might say or do would change civilisation’s hatred and fear of one who remained aloof from its ways. So, though Jer’ok accepted with no outward sign of protest the involuntary degradation of imprisonment, he would not accept the voluntary degradation of pleading his case to those incapable of conceiving of his way of life since infancy.
Jer’ok had endured the long days of incarceration as the requisite pre-trial maneuvering had progressed. He had continued to hold his own counsel and to speak only rarely if at all. It took no great effort of will to force those around him to face the sullen, speechless creature into which Jer’ok had reverted. Through it all, knowing escape impossible, Jer’ok allowed himself but a single hope – that execution would swiftly end the misery of captivity.
As he had endured the endless weeks of incarceration, Jer’ok would now endure the hours and days of testimony to mark what he believed to be the final events of his life. When the preliminaries were at last concluded, the beast-man’s attention was immediately drawn to the witness box. Jer’ok’s eyes followed Amber as she made her way to the place beside the bench and dwelled on the delicate beauty of his mate as she spoke. But he was stunned as she began to detail their first meeting when she had believed him to be purely Aranda, most likely a mutant.
But for the shackles, he would have risen in protest. As Westonheath carried on his interrogation, Estwick placed a restraining hand on Jer’ok’s arm.
“No!” Jer’ok said aloud, putting a momentary halt to the proceedings. Two bailiffs converged on him.
“Does the defendant wish to be removed from the court?” Montayne demanded.
For the first time Jer’ok looked into the eyes of his judge.
“Stop this,” he demanded.
“I cannot and will not,” came the reply.
“Then take me away from this place.” Jer’ok shrugged off the offensive hand of the man at his side, “End it now.”
But the beast-man was only removed from the courtroom to pass the remainder of his trial in the holding chambre where he could not see what was transpiring on the other side of the door but where he could not close his ears to what was being told of him.
AFTER THE DEFENDANT had been forcibly removed to the holding chambre, it was clear the serenity of his wife had been shattered. Over Sanbairryn’s objection Montayne granted Westonheath’s request for a brief recess. When she later returned to the witness box, her composure had been completely restored. Under the barrister’s gentle interrogation, Lady Amber told what she knew of Jer’ok’s life on Ashtar. Although there was much she could not tell them because she had not experienced it with him, what she did know was compelling. Of his solitary adventures nothing would be revealed unless the defendant himself testified. Since his expulsion from Montayne’s court, hope dimmed among those in attendance in expectation of discovering the secrets of this notoriously reclusive Tuathan lord.
Finally, after days of Westonheath’s gentle but exhaustive questioning, Amber’s ordeal was coming to a close. The barrister studied his notes at length and conferred with Estwick. For a moment Palard remained seated. Then he rose to approach his witness.
“Lady Amber, to whom have you given yourself in love?”
She studied his face for a long moment. Once she glanced out the windows to the jungle just visible in the hazy distance. It was not a question to be answered without serious contemplation. From the beginning, neither she nor Palard had been certain what her answer would be should he ask this intensely personal question. It was only one of the calculated risks to be taken if Jer’ok was to survive in freedom.
“I am the mate of Jer’ok-ta of the Aranda,” she actually growled a portion of the answer in an exact repetition of what Palard Westonheath had heard from Jer’ok in his cell.
“I am sorry, my lady, but can you state your answer more clearly?”
“Yes, of course.”
Turning to look directly at Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne, Amber repeated her answer completely in Tae, “I am the mate of Jer’ok-ta of the Hunterfolk.”
“Thank you, my lady, I know this has not been easy for you. I have no further questions.”
As he was making his way to his place at the counsel table, Amber had to remind herself that she was now subject to the greater ordeal of cross-examination. She forced herself to face Prosecutor Sanbairryn without revealing the dread in her heart. She could not bear it if somehow she faltered and condemned her husband out of her own mouth.
On his part, Jaymor was contemplating only whether to ask her just who this Jer’ok-ta might be, if he was not in fact Leede Southerly. He had already dismissed any other cross of this altogether too composed woman. In the end, he elected to allow her own sophistication and the immaculate tailoring of the expensive attire she was wearing to court every day to make their own impression. He would save his challenge to the woman’s assertion for his closing arguments. This was not a woman likely to love anyone less than a man of the nobility.
“The Throne has no questions, my lord chancellor.”
Somehow Amber made her way down from the box, across the space before the bench and was able to sit down in the chair Estwick was holding for her without collapsing. Westonheath observed her pallor and rose to request adjournment for the rest of the day that he might prepare for his next witness. There was no objection.
On the morrow Amber was absent from court. The defence called to the box Subcommandant Guy Locke of Diyala. In his chambre, Jer’ok twisted madly against his bonds. The massive chair could not give. The arrangement of manacle and shackle might eventually have yielded to Jer’ok’s strength, but not in time to stop Guy Locke from revealing still more of the past that until now had been held scrupulously private. The beast-man ceased his futile struggles. There was no one to observe him in this place; his head dropped forward in despair.
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