SUBCOMMANDANT LOCKE’S TESTIMONY proved every bit as compelling as that of the Lady Amber. Because Locke was not only the first man to engage with the beast who later proved to be Leede Southerly, legitimate heir to Charwick and all the Southerly holdings, but also Gemini’s sole expert in the ethology (not anthropology, Westonheath insisted) of Pseudohomo sylvati – Ashtar’s hunterfolk, Montayne allowed the Diyalan’s wide-ranging testimony over numerous objections from the prosecution. Through his knowledge of hunterfolk behavior Locke was able to suggest something of Jer’ok’s childhood and youth. He was also able to confirm Jer’ok’s obligations to his mate once her life had been threatened.
But calling the Diyalan on behalf of the defence had been among the calculated risks, and one Amber disapproved. Moreover, her antipathy toward the Diyalan officer was so vividly apparent that Palard finally conceded she must not be in court while the man was in the box. Palard was well aware of the risks, and he knew exactly where Locke stood on every question to be raised directly or expected on cross-examination. The barrister was fully prepared to counter whatever the Diyalan was pressed to reveal by Jaymor Sanbairryn.
Unfortunately, as a confidant of the high king and as a high-ranking leader among the Rune Silentio, Locke was more aware of both the beast-man’s civilised persona and the whole grim range of violence attributed to the man on Chimur and on Ashtar than any person alive. And Jaymor Sanbairryn was determined to extract every last detail from the commandant. It all came out, including the fact that Locke himself had groomed his savage young protégé for his initial appearances in court, appearances that led directly to his eventual assumption of the title.
“Then you presented this Leede Southerly to the court at Meridum?”
“You sponsored his ascension to the Charwick title and estates?”
“Then you presented this Leede Southerly to the court as a man of Tuathan noble blood?”
“None who is not of noble blood can assume that title.”
It was not quite the answer Sabairryn sought, but it would have to suffice. Montayne had no patience for repetitive questioning. In any event, he could hardly miss the point. But here as throughout his testimony Commandant Locke maintained both his self-possessed demeanor and his steadfast conviction that Leede Southerly was in fact often subsumed by the preternaturally powerful Jer’ok of the Hunterfolk, that Jer’ok had been responsible for the violence attributed to Leede Southerly and, solely to protect his mate, had ultimately slain Derk Aliyan.
Finally, with the end in sight, Sanbairryn fixed Locke with a stare that could only be described as triumphant. Guy gritted his teeth.
“Subcommandant, I have but one last question. Territorial records reveal that it was you who are responsible for the defendant’s capture and return to the capital.”
Locke remained silent. No question had been put to him.
“Which did you capture, subcommandant? The man you presented to the Tuathan court or a beast of the jungle?”
“Objection, my lord prosecutor has answered his own question in improperly asking another.”
“Sustained,” was the prompt ruling from the bench.
“I withdraw the question, milord chancellor, and the Throne has nothing further of this witness.”
“Yes, my lord.” Westonheath rose to approach the box.
“Subcommandant Locke, do you consider the defendant before this court a man?”
“Yes. Under most circumstances he is a gentleman in the best Tuathan tradition.”
“Subcommandant, in your many years of personal experience with the defendant and in your capacity as an expert in hunterfolk behavior, can you tell us if he is hunterfolk?”
“Yes, I can; he is by nature Aranda – hunterfolk.”
“That is all. The defence is through with this witness.”
“I have only one more question, based on what the witness has just asserted,” interjected Sanbairryn: “Subcommandant, under what circumstances is the defendant hunterfolk, based on your expert opinion and personal knowledge of him?”
For the first time it appeared that Locke was not prepared to answer.
When the delay became protracted, the chancellor leaned forward, “Subcommandant? You must answer the question.”
“I cannot know all the circumstances,” Locke began; “he does not readily reveal his inner thoughts to others. It seems there must be an extremity of circumstances.”
“Is that your answer?”
“Tell us, then, Subcommandant; when you took the defendant prisoner that he might be brought before this court on charges of murder and treason, would you characterize that moment as an ‘extremity of circumstances’?”
Again Locke hesitated until the chancellor warned him that his patience was wearing thin; the prosecutor’s questions were to answered promptly without waste of the court’s valuable time.
“It is not so easy a distinction, my lords.”
“Allow me to withdraw the question,” Jaymor smiled. “Commandant, who did you take into custody, the man or the hunterfolk?”
Guy remembered every detail of the circumstances of that grim moment in his life. There was only one answer he could give, “It was both.”
“Both?” Jaymor assumed a puzzled expression. “Are you telling the court that both Leede Southerly and this Jer’ok-ta were taken into your custody?”
“And you are telling us, then, that at a moment when he was being deprived of his precious freedom and knowing his life would be forfeit, this Jer’ok-ta did not overpower Leede Southerly and meekly stood by while his – ah – alter ego, was subjected to physical restraints?”
And Guy Locke knew no matter how he might seek to express what Lee had undergone in those terrible moments at the plantation, there was simply no accurate rendition of the events which could explain how it was that Locke survived to bring him to the Settlement. Except that Leede Southerly had not allowed Jer’ok to burst into the violent action his Aranda being demanded.
“They were both present,” Locke repeated, leaving the answer to Jaymor’s question to be inferred.
Locke was deeply shaken as he stepped down. These last few moments were in effect the climax of the entire trial. All the counsel were exhausted, the courtroom hushed. In his solitude Jer’ok sat like a man already dead, unseeing eyes focused somewhere far beyond the walls surrounding him. His was a nakedness having nothing to do with his preference in garb for his brief, devastating appearance before the court.
Into the hush the voice of Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne intruded, “Call your next witness, barrister.”
“We have no further witnesses, your lordship, the defence rests.”
The silence grew protracted. Teams of counsel at both tables wondered if the chancellor would call for closing arguments on the spot. Not one felt ready to go forward. Even listening to what the others would be saying seemed well beyond their present capacities.
“Approach the bench,” Montayne requested finally. When they had obeyed, Montayne stunned them with his next pronouncement.
“As treason is an extraordinary charge, I have, in the absence of a jury, decided to exercise my extraordinary discretion in this matter, but I require leave of both the Throne and the defence to do so.” He looked at them as they awaited whatever the grand chancellor had in mind. “Since the defendant will not be taking the witness box, I have decided that I must interview him myself before I can judge him.”
He waited to allow his pronouncement to sink into the consciousness of each of the counsel. “I will do so in private. Of course, I will record all that ensues, but the record will be sealed, do I make myself clear? Counsel will be allowed to review that record only upon appeal. Otherwise, whatever the defendant has to say to me will remain privileged.”
Reter Montayne rose to his full height. “Are there any objections?” He waited. “In that case, there is no time like the present. He banged the gavel with unmistakable authority. “Court is adjourned.” And he swept out of the courtroom, his sergeant-bailiff swallowed in his wake.
JER’OK DID NOT stir when his guards entered and unshackled him. They had to lift him from the chair and forcibly walk him to a portion of the complex he had not previously entered. There, one of the contingent knocked and opened the door at the summons from within.
“Your lordship, how can we secure the prisoner?”
“That will not be necessary. If you insist, maintain your vigilance outside the door. My sergeant is at the courtroom entry. Leave us. And take those things with you.” Montayne indicated the manacles.
Sensing something new in the air, Jer’ok shook off his lethargy. The san-k’aranda was regarding him steadily, obviously inviting a challenge. Jer’ok met that regard in kind, but he made no further move. He was being tested, but he remained uncertain of the nature of the test. Although the other revealed nothing beyond placid interest, uncertainty made the beast-man suspicious and more wary than ever.
Neither man knew how much time passed in that momentous silence. Reter Montayne spoke at last, “Who are you?”
With no relaxation of his rigid posture, the beast-man responded, “Jer’ok-ta of the Aranda.”
“Is that all?”
The beast-man hesitated, but so much of him had already been revealed publicly, there seemed little reason not to answer this san-k’aranda’s questions. There was nothing in the man’s aura to suggest hostility. If anything, the faint shade of admiration was present.
“No,” he said quietly.
“Are you Leede Southerly, Lord Charwick?”
“Sometimes I am.” And with that admission, the beast-man raised one eyebrow as if issuing a challenge of his own. “Fortunately for you, I am Leede here and now.”
“But you were not, just a moment ago?”
The beast-man turned his eyes and thoughts to the trees far beyond the window. At last he admitted, “Leede has been here. But Jer’ok has been as well.”
“Right now, at this very moment, who are you?”
The beast-man endured the intensity of the challenging stare. Why did he not respond in kind and attack this k’aranda? And then he shrugged.
“I do not know,” he stopped, leaving something unspoken.
“Tell me,” Reter Montayne urged him without demanding, “it will not go beyond this room. You have my word on that.”
“I do not know,” the beast-man repeated and for a second time broke the nearly tangible contact between them, a thing he never did in face of an enemy. Idly, he began to rub his swollen wrists, another sign of vulnerability before this san-k’aranda. Without asking leave, he turned and walked to the window. It was not just cleared but open, and the mingled scents of the city below and the jungle beyond were a heady mix to one who had been shut away from the outside world for so long.
The beast-man’s heart beat faster. Freedom. It was just beyond the window. Why did he not simply take advantage of the circumstances and make his escape? Was it the hesitance of humankind or the suspicion of hunterfolk that stayed him?
“I do not know,” and, indeed, the beast-man did not know which question he was answering – one of his own or that of the san-k’aranda. He mused over the man’s question. It was hardly the first time it had occurred to him. This was the question that haunted him in Meridum and at Battersea, at his Ashtarian plantation, among the Sanaca, when he was in his jungle with his fellow beasts, from Aranda to Muthus to Cita. But never had he openly answered it. Always he went about whatever he was doing and let the circumstances decide, if some choice had to be made. If any choice was made, it was never conscious.
And then it was as though the beast-man was alone in this place, drinking in the scents as they invaded the room in an ever-changing blending of city and the wild. He started slowly, more to himself than the other, whom he forgot for a moment.
“There are times when I am Leede Southerly. Other times I am Jer’ok and I am of the folk – bound by their ways, yet free in ways no san-k’aranda will ever fully understand, not even Amber.” His thoughts lingered on his mate. Her name was sweet on his tongue, like honey from the hollow heart of a long-dead tree. He wondered if he would ever see her again – touch her and feel her touch – love her in the manner of either Leede or Jer’ok. His eyes clouded. She was always receptive to whichever lover came to her, but Jer’ok had been the first. That was pleasing to him, though he could not have told why it should be so. He shook his head to clear it, but the confusion clung in his mind.
“Then there are times when I am both – or neither. I do not know which.” Now talking only to himself, without regard to the attentive san-k’aranda on the other side of the room, he went on softly, thinking aloud, “These are the times when I am lost, when neither of my peoples knows me. How can they when I do not know – myself.”
The beast-man stopped, remembering where he was and the circumstances which had brought him here, “Have you heard enough?” he asked, declining to conceal his bitterness. He turned his back on the window and the freedom beyond to face his judge.
“It is strange, Lord Charwick. I have taken the time prior to the trial to speak privately with the Lady Amber and with Subcommandant Locke. Neither was told of the other’s audience with me.
“They both have pleaded for your life.” Montayne waited. A light flashed in the man’s eyes and then faded. Not a muscle in that giant frame twitched. “Oh, yes, they are both well aware of your disapproval. You are too proud, my lord. If it does not cost you your life, it will your freedom.”
This time the muscles did tense. Montayne’s hand hovered over the alarm in his desk. But the dangerous moment passed.
“Both your lady-wife and your friend,” the chancellor continued, “have been articulate on your behalf. They both have told me in private as well as from the box that you are far more than the sum of Lord Charwick and Jer’ok-ta. And yet they say, as you suggest now, that I should judge you as Jer’ok, not as Southerly, or as this superior creature they claim you to be.
“How am I to reconcile these contradictions? I would not turn you over for psychiatric treatment and I know imprisonment would destroy you. At this juncture you leave me only the death sentence, Lord Charwick. Can you give me nothing that will free you?”
For all the response from the other man, Reter might have been exploring the complexities of some arcane law of merely academic interest. Jer’ok moved from the window, but he did not approach Montayne. Instead he walked thoughtfully to the door through which he had entered. There he stopped. And turned.
“It is Jer’ok who is before you.” And then, seemingly out of nowhere, came a question that was not quite a request, much less a plea, “will you allow Amber to come to Jer’ok before you put him to death? ” And he opened the door and waited for the guards to take him back to his cell.
“Sadly,” Montayne observed to himself, “it will not come that swiftly. You will languish in our prisons for many long months to come.” But he made a note to contact Lady Amber. He would allow her to visit her husband before court convened in the morning. The case would be over before week’s end, perhaps even on the morrow, if they made a long day of it.
JER’OK THOUGHT IT was his guards come to escort him to his chambre outside the courtroom. Instead it was Amber who approached his cell. No one had dared damp the field, so he could not reach out to her. But she reached through the bars to hold his hand in hers. Together they talked softly until they heard the clatter of the arriving escort. Jer’ok looked only at his mate and she at him.
“So, my heart, we are to say goodbye.”
“Yes,” she said, unable to conceal her misery. “There is no reason to believe the chancellor will not condemn you. Any alternative he might have would only be more cruel. He does not fully believe any of us. He cannot free you. There is nothing left but the final formalities.
“And then Leede Southerly is going to be punished for something Jer’ok has done,” she said bitterly.
“Take courage, my heart, it will soon be over,” and he released her hand. And then, “Amber, do not go to court today. I cannot bear for you to be there. Go home to the plantation.”
Amber nodded, unable to speak, and rose to leave before the guards could enter to intrude on their final moment together. Her parting thought was that it was she who should have been encouraging him, but she could not.
CLOSING ARGUMENTS WERE succinct. There were no surprises. For one final time Barrister Palard Westonheath insisted that, though Leede Southerly was on trial before the chancellor, Leede Southerly in fact was not present, nor had he committed any crime. Lord Charwick was no traitor. Indeed, if any crime had been committed at all, a point not conceded by the defence, it was not attributable to this honoured member of the High King’s own court, nor was it committed by the war-chief of the Sanaca people, over whom this court might have some semblance of jurisdiction. A man had been killed; there was no denying that fact. But he had not been slain by another man.
“Does it not strike anyone as odd that the one accused of this crime is not here before the court?
“He is not here because he is not humankind. He rebelled against our claim to judge him and was removed. It was clear he does not belong among us. This creature who was removed from our sight is Jer’ok-ta, a buck of the hunterfolk, Pseudohomo sylvati. By edict of the High King himself, something less than human. And so Jer’ok-ta is by edict of the High King something less than human.”
Westonheath stopped. He looked Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne straight in the eye: “this court knows every bit as well as I that Jer’ok-ta is other than human. Only a human can commit murder. And only a human can commit treason.
“Thank you, milord chancellor, that is all.”
It was over.
JER’OK WAS LED to the courtroom doors. He was clothed only in the hunterfolk manner, uncovered by any article of humankind devising. There were no manacles about his wrists, nor shackles to impede his stride. And stride he did, with his guards nearly running to keep pace with him. Jer’ok strode through the courtroom and directly to the bench where he stopped and awaited the pronouncement of his fate.
“My Lord Charwick,” Reter Montayne began, no matter the incongruity between the title and the appearance of the giant creature before him. “In deference to your unusual nature, I will be brief.
“The law is not an instrument of explanation but one of justice, including the punishment of wrongdoing. And to understand is not necessarily to forgive. You, Lord Charwick, have failed in your responsibilities to the Throne of the High King. This court cannot condone that failure. In slaying Derk Aliyan, we find that you acted out of personal vengeance and in cold blood. At the time of the killing there was no need to protect the Lady of Charwick, who was, in fact, in no danger, certainly in no immediate danger justifying deadly force.
“In committing this act of premeditated murder, you knowingly committed an act against one treating with the governor of this territory. Thus, you have committed treason against the Throne of the High King.”
Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne set aside his findings and the order to follow.
“Do you have anything to say on your own behalf before this court sentences you?”
Jer’ok remained silent, unmoving. He would afford this k’aranda no further cause to believe him to be yielding to any claim of authority over him.
“The death sentence, especially in this extraordinary case, should not be perceived as punitive or as a cruelty. It is imposed only when the convicted is deemed not only a traitor but one unlikely to be amenable to rehabilitation. In our Gemini system the sentence has only been imposed on a few. Each, like this Lord Charwick, was a terrorist who engaged in a campaign of killing. Granted, this convicted traitor committed no more than a single assassination. But we know him to be a killer of men, remorseless and without regard for the laws of humankind. Neither he nor any other is outside the law of Gemini.
“Leede Southerly, Lord Charwick, Prince of the Hua, I, Grand Chancellor Reter Montayne, hereby sentence you to death, sentence to be executed at a time and place and by a means to be set at the convenience of the Throne when all due appeals are heard and are denied.
“Until such time as the Throne advises this court that execution has been set, you will remain here in the custody of the Throne’s territory. Because of the danger you pose this territory and its peoples, you will be held incommunicado.”
And so, for Jer’ok, it was indeed over and the sentence, inevitable from the outset, had been pronounced. But Jer’ok, prepared by his experience with more primitive cultures for immediate execution of that sentence, was appalled to hear the pronouncement delaying execution months into the future. He had not been aware of the mercy compelling a period of contemplation and appeal before civilised humankind presumes to take the life of another under its code of justice.
THE WILL-POWER THAT had held Jer’ok-ta’s savage fury in check for so very long snapped at last. Jer’ok of the Aranda would not again return to the living entombment of that cell. Only a few times in his life had the beast-man been provoked to the madness of the beasts. Now once again the normally imperceptible scar burned across his forehead and deep into the dark hair. Jer’ok was seized of a madness that could not be denied.
Now, in Jer’ok’s sudden madness, the chancellor was barely visible through the red haze clouding the beast-man’s vision. He no longer heard any of the sounds of the courtroom. It was as if all of these humankind had withdrawn into a great unmeasurable distance. But he saw every detail of this place with a preternatural sharpness. Every movement, every action around him was vivid but slowed to a veritable crawl.
Unlike those of his captors, Jer’ok’s senses had never been lulled over these weeks of degradation. The beast-man never once forgot where he was and what he was to these k’aranda – a criminal whose life was forfeit. They might have forgotten the force once required to return him to his cell when Jer’ok would not go willingly, but he had not. The dignity of the wild beast gave way to its ferocity.
He screamed once and then again. Witnesses later called it anguish, but it was not. It was the Aranda challenge, intended to freeze an enemy in his tracks. And it succeeded.
It was beyond the means of mere men to suppress this Jer’ok-ta, bereft of reason and running amok within the now-close confines of the court. So swift was the transformation to enraged beast that Jer’ok had crashed through a window and disappeared before any effective action could be mounted. Belatedly, guards and bailiffs converged on him in a swirl of confusion. Only one man stood in the way, sidearm leveled at the beast-man’s heart. Jer’ok hardly paused, facing him without recognition, before brushing him aside with one sweep of an arm and leaping through a veritable shower of shattering glass. Behind him was a chaos of death, injury, and hysteria.
In the aftermath of the violent frenzy, a stunned Reter Montayne looked out over the devastation in his courtroom and knew he had made the correct decision in remaining unyielding to the calls for mercy. This was a man who truly deserved the condemnation and death sentence pronounced over him. The beast was indeed a murdering terrorist. It was not until many hours afterward that the full import of his own contradiction dawned on the grand chancellor.
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