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Volume 6064

 Copyright © 1983, 1997, 2016 Dorothy J. Howell
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IT WAS A tense time for the family and friends of Leede Southerly, Lord Charwick of Tuatha.  Despite the fraternal betrayal of his father that had predestined the current lord to a childhood and youth in the tender nurturing of primeval Ashtar, Leede would be the first of his ancient lineage ever to stand formally accused of treason.  And the rumors that the throne would not be satisfied with a murder charge were not to be quelled.  It did not help matters that Leede Southerly was nowhere in evidence.

The sullen prisoner held under the tightest security in the gaol serving Ashtar’s capital was not Leede Southerly, but a pro-hominid beast, a hunterfolk.  His guards had come to suspect something of that reality.  Amber knew it and so did Guy Locke.  But there was only one other who might believe them, and High King Strahm Thurston Albritton remained aloof from the whole affair.  The man had killed – and not for the first time.  In the past he had killed with impunity.  Now he must accept the consequences of his savage nature.  The throne would not intervene on his behalf.

AMBER ARRANGED FOR Leede’s barrister to hold one more consultation with his client and the man’s lady-wife in the dismal room reserved to that purpose within the building housing the gaol.  Tall, taciturn, filling the cramped space with his presence, Jer’ok was escorted in and pressed into a chair.  No less than three guards accompanied him.  As soon as he was seated, a fourth man entered and cuffed both hands to the solid arms of the chair.  The guards departed without a word being exchanged among any of the persons in the room.  Not for the first time Palard Westonheath studied his incorrigible client at length before addressing him.  The barrister doubted he would get any further this time, despite the presence of the Lady Amber.

“My lord,” Westonheath began, “it is not too late for you to come to my aid in representing you.  If you are to have any chance of exoneration. . . . ”

And his carefully chosen, softly articulated words filled the emptiness of the small chambre.  Amber knew they were going unheard.  Jer’ok did not so much as cast a glance in the direction of either of them.  He was awaiting his fate in the stoic silence of hunterfolk knowing long-sleep near with nothing likely to prevent its onset.  She stopped the barrister with a touch.  He subsided without demur.

“Forgive him, milord barrister, I was wrong to call you here.”  Her sad eyes never left the face of her husband.  Something entered the prisoner’s eyes at her apology, but it was gone before Palard was certain he had seen this, the first reaction of any ilk from his disturbing client.  Without another word, for both of them already knew the consequences of Lord Charwick’s continued refusal to participate on his own behalf, Westonheath rose and quietly left the room.

The heavy door opened and then closed behind him and the bolt shot home.  That Amber was allowed to remain with her husband was a concession less to her exalted status than to her unfailing courtesy to those charged with assuring his continued incarceration.

“Jer’ok, talk to me,” she pleaded, taking every care to keep the desperation out of her voice.  But, she knew that, too, was useless.  He would sense if not hear it, no matter how she might strive for control.

“If you will not defend yourself, there is none who can help you, my love.  There is no shame in telling them why you acted against Derk Aliyan.   No shame in explanations.   Tell these offworlders what motivated you.  I cannot.  The law does not allow me to speak for your mental processes.  I can only relate what happened among the Khazarish, and tell of being stalked myself.  But it cannot help.  Not when you took his life in the manner you did.

“Tell them,” she insisted with all the force of her iron will, seeking somehow to impress upon him the need, the only means of keeping hope alive.  Amber cleared her tight throat, but the last was no more than a whisper, “Do not let them part us forever, my love.”

At that Jer’ok at least turned his empty eyes on her.  The blank stare was infinitely worse than the vacant expression induced by the chemical regimen inflicted by Aliyan and his forces in the caves of the Khazarish, seemingly a lifetime ago.   This time Jer’ok was using his last defence of Aranda indifference against his own mate.  He had never before been so harsh with her, and it was breaking Amber’s heart if not her will.

She rose to stand behind him.  Through the stuff of the shapeless garment the guards had forced over his head, she kneaded his tense shoulders to no avail.  He would release himself to neither kindness nor her love while in chains or separated by bars fortified with a field of invisible energy.   After a while, knowing the guards would lose patience at any moment now, she ceased her ministrations to crouch at Jer’ok’s side.  She would have stroked his hand, but he strained against the cuff to avoid her touch.

“Don’t do this to us,” she said softly, but there was no response.  He was completely withdrawn and sought no boon other than to be left to the solitude of his cell.  Amber could do no more for him than comply with his wishes.

AFTER THE POINTLESS encounter with Jer’ok’s recalcitrant refusal to speak to any of those approaching him in his prison, Amber retreated to the cool depths of Palard Westonheath’s tastefully appointed office.  Never had the barrister seen this staunch woman so pale.  Thus far, she had stood up to the circumstances with a fortitude he seldom met in his practice.  But now her blue eyes were dark with anguish against the pallor of her haggard face.

“It is useless,” she admitted unnecessarily.

Palard said nothing, but he led her to an overstuffed chair that swallowed her thin form.   From his well stocked cabinet he brought her a beaker of a special reserve he kept for such occasions.  To her credit, she accepted it with a word of thanks and sipped at it cautiously but steadily.

“There is one last hope,” Palard started when color began to be restored over her cheekbones.  She looked up to study him.  “You are not going to like what I am about to say, my lady.”

Amber managed a wan smile.  “I have found little to like in the last several weeks.  Say what you will.  I will hold nothing against you, milord barrister.”

Palard studied her closely.  If he had come to understand something of his lordship’s refusal to participate in this charade of justice, he had also come to the deepest respect of her ladyship’s calm acceptance even as she fought the refined version of tooth and nail to save her husband.

“He is greatly withdrawn.”

The understatement dropped between them with the force of an intergalactic asteroid.  Hardly a recent development or worthy of mention at this late date, Amber puzzled.  What was Westonheath leaving unsaid?  The dark eyes held his.

“It is not a defence merely against murder and lesser crimes against persons.  There is precedent in the matter of treason, as well.” Amber was not stunned by the acknowledgment that treason, Gemini’s – indeed, the Confederation’s – last capital offense, was the second charge to be brought against Leede.  She had known from the very beginning that nothing less would satisfy Chimur.  In the days before Jer’ok had returned to the plantation Guy Locke had gently warned her of what was coming.  No, it was what Palard was offering to present that caught her breath away.  Once again hope died aborning.

“And the consequences?” she asked evenly.  She knew the answer.

“Commitment,” the barrister confirmed. “Almost certainly for life.  At least until the notoriety fades.  Then, who knows; you and the Diyalan subcommandant and others might be able to effect his release.  Quietly, of course.”

“No.  I will not permit it.  There could be no punishment more cruel.”

“You are certain?”  Palard sat down beside her.  “Are you so certain?  I have to raise it, you understand.  I would be derelict in my duty to my client, if I did not.”

Amber looked the man straight in the eye, “Absolutely not.  You will not bring this to my husband’s attention.  I forbid it.  He must never know that possibility exists.”

“All right.  It shall be as you say.  I do understand; Amber, trust me.”

Amber rose and began to pace in agitation.  Then she turned on Westonheath, fire in her eyes.  “I have already trusted too often.  You will not raise this matter with Lord Charwick, do you understand?”

The barrister nodded, but had no chance to respond.  Amber turned on him in a fury, blue eyes all but flashing sparks of rage.

“We are barbaric!” she spat the words in the highest disdain.  “It is we who lack the very qualities by which my husband has lived all his life.”

Westonheath stepped into the fray, “Except mercy, my lady.  Lord Charwick is without mercy.  You have said it yourself, and,” here the barrister did hesitate in what he was embarking upon, “his murder of Derk Aliyan proves it.  And milord Charwick may well forfeit his life for it.” He stopped Amber’s protest with a wave of his hand, still testing her.  “He has, after all, killed another man in cold blood.  It is murder.  How would you answer that, my lady?”

“It was not murder.  Is it not true that the offense can only occur when one humankind is slain by another – and without some justification?”

“Amber,” he warned, “we have gone this way before.  It will not succeed.”

Her tirade was exhausted.  Palard was right.  It would be to no avail.  She knew there was no hope.  Only one thing was left to be resolved between them.  Defeated, Amber resumed her place beside him and took his hand in her own, an intimate gesture he knew quite foreign to this reserved Arene woman.

“Promise me, Barrister Palard Westonheath – no matter what your law requires, this case is unique, as my husband is unique; promise me.”  Her grip on his hand became painful.

  “If it is within my power, my lady,” Palard winced and she released his hand with a flush stealing over her features.  “What is it you would ask of me?”

Amber straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath, “I am speaking for my husband now, not for myself.  This is not what I want, but what I know he will never ask of you.”  She paused to assure herself the man was listening to all she was saying.  “The case against my husband can have one of only two outcomes.  He must be wholly exonerated – or he must be put to death.”

Westonheath would have protested, but Amber stopped him, “There is more, Palard.  Heed me well, for my husband will not speak to you of this either.  If he is condemned, there must be no appeals.  You must allow him to go to his execution as swiftly as the law allows.”

“But,” the barrister protested, “there are appeals which cannot be denied.  I can waive some but not all the avenues for averting his execution.”

“Expedite them,” she snapped.  And then Amber softened, “You cannot begin to know what loss of liberty does to Jer’ok-ta of the Hunterfolk.  For his sake, I am begging you; do as I ask.  There could be no greater hurt to him than prolonged imprisonment.  But none will ever be allowed to see the depth of his suffering.  Promise me.” she repeated it yet again.

Westonheath promised, but his expression had grown distant.  It had occurred to him that the other line of defence might actually be tenable.  It was one that would indeed succeed in exonerating Leede Southerly if it did not fail altogether and doom him.  It was a dangerous course, especially if Palard’s colleague sprung it on the court before the case against his lordship could be prosecuted.  The whole of the trial would be turned about.  And if the defence failed . . . .   Ah, then – the Terran adage of nothing ventured nothing gained chose this moment to enter his mind.

Palard studied Amber anew.  This seemingly frail Arene would make a convincing witness and, more importantly, she would stand up to the most intense of cross-examiners.  Westonheath promised himself one last conference with Leede, Lord Charwick.  He could not doubt the sincerity behind the Lady Amber’s demands.  Nor did he for a moment doubt her love for her husband.  But he would put his proposition to his lordship himself.  Silence was, after all, assent.  But first he must hear the whole story of the life of this Jer’ok-ta.

“Tell me, Lady Amber,” the barrister began.

WHEN SHE HAD completed her incredible tale, second dawn was filling the vast windows of Palard’s office with light.  The woman and her confidant were both exhausted.   Palard could not suppress a discreet yawn, but his sharp mind was as clear as it had ever been throughout this difficult course of preparation.

“You would allow us to argue that Tuatha’s Lord Charwick is not humankind?”  Tired as he was there was no longer room for surprise in Palard’s voice.  In fact, he was already formulating arguments in his mind.  Amber’s eyes were as much sad as exhausted by his ruthless interrogation.

“He has the best human qualities.  He is the finest man I have ever known.”

“But . . . ?”

“Of course I will.  He is Jer’ok – hunterfolk, for all his effort to – pass – for human.  You know,” Amber looked at her confederate, “He has done it all for me.  Even Derk Aliyan.  The killing was not revenge.  Jer’ok feared for the life of his mate.  As a hunterfolk buck he had no other recourse.”  Her voice lowered to the point Palard had to strain to catch her words.  “I only hope I am worthy of him.”

There was no such doubt in Westonheath’s mind.  This was a woman worthy of anything any man might attempt on her behalf.  He rose.  “It is enough for now.  We are both exhausted.”

Amber declined his offer of a light meal brought to the office, but he insisted upon escorting her to the inn where she and her husband had shared so many interludes when Leede and Jer’ok were exchanging places.   Deeply impressed with the courage and the depth of this slight woman who barely came to his own shoulders, Palard Westonheath took the liberty of clasping both her hands in his own and brushing her cheek with the lightest of kisses.

“I will do my best for him.  You have my word,” he vowed.  And then the two turned away from each other to go their separate ways.  But Westonheath turned back.  His mind was tired.

“My lady!”

Amber stopped and turned to approach him warily, “Milord barrister?”

“Is there any other who can verify what you have told me?  You understand; you are his lady-wife and would do anything on his behalf.   I am sorry; another’s word might mean the difference.”

Amber’s tone was bitter, “You mean other than the High King?”

“He knows?” Westenheath gasped.

“All of it, milord barrister.”

“Is there any other?”

“There is one.  But I wonder if Jer’ok would approve.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes,” she whispered, “but it is his life.”  She regarded the barrister until the interval grew awkward.  “The man who brought Leede Southerly out of Ashtar and into his Tuathan heritage is Subcommandant Guy Locke.”

Amber studied him closely, “Do you care to trust my husband’s life to the man who betrayed him?”

And Amber turned to make her way beyond the lobby, head high and back straight and stiff with her resentment.  She was wondering if Jer’ok would ever forgive the coming revelations of his life on Ashtar.

Westonheath watched her out of sight.  He was already wondering how he might bring Lord Charwick before court in the minimal clothing of a hunterfolk buck.

The Admiral has been holding me spellbound throughout this tale of Jer’ok.  I have felt as though I  were actually present, sometimes residing in Locke, sometimes in Amber, often too close to Jer’ok himself for my own comfort.  I am finding these people extraordinarily real.  More, it is as if I am a part of their lives, even over the vast distances of time and space – and, in all likelihood, far from Gemini reality, let alone my own Terran counterpart.

I must confess there are even times when I find myself falling in love.  Jer’ok is a compelling man.  Distant though he may be, I feel with him.  I am caught up in his motivations, his actions.  I need this time alone to come to grips with my own emotions.

How odd!

This journal is a helpful outlet for my disturbing reactions.  I certainly would reveal them nowhere else.  Except, possibly, to the Admiral.  No, net yet.

Today the Admiral has commenced relating the events of the trial itself.  I can almost see the courtroom as it fills to watch this man brought to a justice he does not recognize.

As the admiral describes it, the courtroom could have been of any time or place.  For the moment it remains still and empty.  Soon it will be vibrant with the excitement of life and death.  Momentous decisions will be made, each rife with human emotion – and, perhaps, something even more primal, something more nearly infinite.  Questions seemingly of pure law will be posed and cool decisions rendered, but I sense they will reach far beyond mere jurisprudence to touch on the life not only of the one who is about to stand accused but also on the lives of those who love, hate or would merely use him.

The most immediate questions, of course, will dwell on innocence or guilt, and the formal answers will determine whether the accused will be freed to resume his life or will meet ignominious death.  But, I wonder, if Jer’ok is freed, to what life will he return?  Can he ever again be Leede Southerly of Chimur?  Will he revert to the Jer’ok of Ashtar who had never been exposed to the people of his birth?  And what of Amber?  Will she be a part of his life?  Or has this experience estranged even Jer’ok’s love for her, his mate and lady-wife?

I was not there, of course, nor was the Admiral.  But, through him, I can see it – and I am finding myself feeling what the principals are enduring.  How can it be so immediate to me, so distanced from their circumstances?  Again, today, as the Admiral set this climactic scene in the chronicles of Jer’ok-ta, I found myself caught up in the personal trials of Locke and Amber as well as Jer’ok, as if I belonged with them, as if I were a part of them.

It is an odd sensation indeed.  I suspect the admiral senses a change in me I cannot explain to myself.

More.  When I have had more time to think it through.

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