Now that I’ve submitted The Gryphon Clerks for consideration to a small-press publisher, I’m concentrating on finishing the draft of Realmgold (formerly “the political book”). I like it. It might even become the “first” book, since both cover the same time period and it’s a little more mainstream – more conflict, for one thing.
Here’s an excerpt. Constance is a Countygold, a local ruler, who is acting as a magistrate here.
Constance’s official judicial table that she used in her usual courtroom had been moved to the platform of the hall. She stood up behind it, a slight, fiftyish, grey-haired woman who needed the reading glasses that she looked over at the gathered crowd.
Here we go, she thought.
“We are here,” she said, “to ascertain the facts about the incident which occurred night before last, just south of Boulder Bend, between a dwarf caravan and a group of local men. I will hear testimony from all who were present and survived, and I will render judgement based on the principles of justice and the law of Denning.” She paused and very deliberately tracked her gaze across the various groups. “Anyone who disrupts the proceedings will be ejected without appeal. Is that clear to everybody?”
There were nods from various parts of the hall. The grey-clad RBP men didn’t nod, just sat stiffly. There were mutterings among the dwarves, but she chose to assume they were translations being made for those who didn’t speak Pektal. The newswriters scribbled, and the Coppers shuffled their feet.
“Good,” she said, and sat. “I will have the participants in the incident come in one at a time and give testimony as to what occurred. Call…” she squinted at her notes… “Tree Stonecircle.”
The advocate for the Coppers popped to his feet as if on a spring. His appearance was against him – he was pop-eyed, with a receding chin and advancing teeth – but he was a highly skilled lawyer, too highly skilled for the Coppers to be paying him themselves, thought Constance.
“Advocate Trustworthy,” she said, acknowledging him. She thought: Trustworthy, what a name for a lawyer.
“May I inquire of the court why the first witness to be called is the principal accused?”
“One of the principal accused,” she pointed out. “And I am calling him first because, having read through the depositions made by the participants, I concluded that his account gives the fullest outline of the incident. That is not,” she said, as he opened his mouth, “a judgement of its accuracy, only of its level of detail.” She nodded to the corporal, who had been waiting for her ruling, and he hurried out the back to fetch the centaur.
There was some murmuring among the Coppers when Muscles appeared, which Constance hushed with her bell and a hard glare that said: Remember, I can throw you out. The RBP men sat silently, obviously determined to give her no excuse.
It was the magistrate’s prerogative to question the witness first, so she began, once he had been sworn in.
“You are Tree Stonecircle?”
“Yes, Countygold,” he said, in a surprisingly tenor voice. His head was about three dwarfpaces above the ground, and, seated, she had to look up at him.
“You can address me as Magistrate while we are in session. You were hired by the dwarf Pack of Sevenhills as a caravan guard?”
She led him through the outline of events, which he recited calmly and clearly, like a military officer giving his report. His enormous hooves stayed planted foursquare on the platform, and he didn’t fidget, nor did his speech stumble. She handed him over, as was the tradition, to Trustworthy, who as far as Tree was concerned was acting as the opposing advocate.
Trustworthy leapt to his feet and leaned forward, gesturing up at the centaur (the advocates were not seated on the platform, since there wasn’t room). “Tree Stonecircle,” he said, “you have testified under oath that the humans you killed began the altercation. Is this true?”
“Yes, Advocate,” said Tree.
“And does the oath bind you?” he asked.
Tree blinked, at a loss for the first time. “I’m sorry, Advocate, I don’t understand,” he said.
“Are you bound by your oath in court?”
“Of course I am, Advocate.”
“But you’re more than half an animal.”
Murmurs began on both sides of the court, and Constance rang her bell sharply. “Advocate, I suggest that you desist from this line of questioning,” she said. “I am mindmage enough to confirm that the oath does bind the witness, as it does any other witness.”
Trustworthy bowed to her unctuously and continued.
“So what was it that led you to conclude that the humans concerned had attacked you?”
“One of them shouted ‘let’s get them’, and they all ran at us with weapons,” he said. More than one of the reporters smirked, and they all scribbled faster.
“And these so-called weapons, of what did they consist?”
“Sharp bits of metal on poles, mostly,” he said. One reporter laughed openly, though briefly, glanced at Constance and fell silent.
“They were, in fact, agricultural tools, were they not? Hayforks, mattocks, scythes and the like?”
“Yes, Advocate. Sharp bits of metal on poles,” said Tree.
“They were not, for example, spears and swords?”
“No, Advocate, they were not. I imagine that such items are difficult to obtain for civilians.”
“What you imagine is not evidence,” said Trustworthy sharply. “So you admit that they were not weapons?”
“No, Advocate, I admit that they were not spears and swords. They were capable of doing harm to us and I judged that that was the intent of the people holding them, which made them weapons. It is my job to make these determinations and act upon them.”
“So had they actually laid their implements on you when you fired your bow?”
“No, Advocate. That’s rather the point of a bow,” said Tree. “You can defend yourself from a distance.”
“So you shot – how many?”
“Three, Advocate. After that they were too close.”
“And what did you do next? Remind me?”
“I drew my sword and defended myself, my employer, and my fellow employees.”
“So you attacked a group of peasants, who had nothing but farm tools to defend themselves, with weapons of war.”
“Advocate, I defended myself and my group against an unprovoked attack with improvised weapons. It’s my job.”
“And you stick to this story.”
“I do, Advocate.”
“Yours to question,” said Trustworthy to the other advocate, a skinny man called Hopeful with a big blade of a nose, and sat down.
Hopeful stood, straightened his lawyer’s shoulder-width black poncho, and asked, “Mr Tree, how many of your opponents were killed in the encounter, do you know?”
“I believe it was three, Advocate.”
“And you base this on?”
“Rapid examination at the scene,” he replied. “It’s possible that one or two more may have died afterwards, after I left.”
“And how did they die, these three?”
“Two from my shots. The third man I shot, the big one with the pickaxe, looked as if he would live to me. Then one of them was kicked by one of the mules, and he hit pretty hard. Looked like he had internal injuries.”
“So the ones you fought with your sword…?”
“One I disarmed by cutting the head off his weapon. Two I knocked out with the flat of the blade. The last one I kicked, but he should have survived all right.”
“So you had a sword, but you didn’t stab anyone with it.”
“Broadsword, Advocate. Not really a stabbing weapon.”
“You didn’t cut anyone, then.”
“Why was that?”
“I try not to kill people if I can avoid it.”
“Thank you, Mr Tree,” said Hopeful, and sat down.
“Thank you, Mr Tree,” echoed Constance, “that will be all. The court,” she said to the room at large, “has sighted documentation which shows that the centaur Tree Stonering is a licensed caravan guard, permitted to carry and use weapons in defence of his employer and his employer’s goods.” She paused, looked down at her notes, and said, “Call Root Pinegrove.”
The corporal led Tree back into the back room on Constance’s left, emerged, ducked into the back room on her right and brought out a medium-sized Copper who walked rather carefully, as if in pain. His heavy breathing was clearly audible in the courtroom, silent except for the scribbling of the reporters.
Tree would probably have recognised him as the man with the mattock.
Constance moved through the formalities of confirming his identity and involvement in the incident as rapidly as she could, given his thick dialect.
“How many of you were in the group involved in the incident?”
“And what had you been doing previously?”
“We been at pub.”
“Why did you have your tools with you?”
The man’s mouth, which featured some truly hideous teeth – green and worn or missing – worked briefly as he tried not to answer, but the oath compelled him.
“We was lookin’ for shorties.”
“Do you mean you were looking for dwarves?”
“And what did you intend to do when you found them?”
Root muttered something.
“Speak clearly, Mr Root,” said Constance sternly.
“We was gonna do ‘em over.”
“You were going to attack them?”
“Yahs.” The man was sweating, trying not to answer.
“And did you attack the dwarf caravan in question when you found them?”
“Yahs.” Very reluctantly.
“In your statement given previously, you claimed that the dwarf caravan attacked you. Are you now saying that was untrue?”
“You lied in your statement?”
“Why did you lie, Mr Root?”
“You were scared. What were you scared of, Mr Root?”
“Sceered of Localgold.”
“And why was that?”
The man struggled visibly, but didn’t answer.
“Are you under a compulsion not to answer that question, Mr Root?” she asked, knowing full well what the answer was.
“Yahs,” he said, with a mixture of fear and relief.
“Did the Localgold suggest that you go out after the dwarves, Mr Root?”
Trustworthy popped up on his spring, but she waved him down. Root’s eyes bulged as the conflicting oaths fought to force him in opposite directions.
“It’s all right, Mr Root,” Constance said after a few heartbeats, as the Copper’s face started to flush, “you don’t have to answer that question. Be it noted in the record that the witness was unable to answer.
“So you attacked the dwarf caravan. Another witness has told us that one of your group cried out, ‘Get them!’, or words to that effect. Did you hear those words, Mr Root?”
“Who said them?”
“Sky Tanner.” He added a tongue-click to the end of the name, as superstitious Coppers did to the names of the dead.
“And what happened then?”
“We run at the shorties and the horse-arse.”
“Mr Root, in my courtroom you will call things by their correct names. You will call dwarves dwarves, gnomes gnomes, and centaurs centaurs. Is that clear?”
“So what happened after Sky Tanner called out?”
“We run at the… the dwarves and the centaur.”
“To attack them?”
“With what object?”
“What was your purpose? What did you hope to achieve by attacking them?”
“Beat ‘em up, take their stuff.”
“You were going to rob them?”
“Did you intend to kill them?”
“Just to hurt them?”
“And what stopped you?”
“The hor… the centaur.”
“He stopped you from beating up the group any worse than you did, and from robbing them?”
“What did he do to you?”
“Kicked me in guts.” He touched the area in question and winced.
“Thank you, Mr Root. Yours to question,” she said to Trustworthy.