|Source: Wikimedia Commons|
Justice Bennett, Lady of the Upper Marshes and Chief Justice of the Trinist Supreme Court, sighed as she read the case summary in front of her; she paced up and down her chambers, her red robes swirling around her as she turned. Her brown hair, steely grey at the temples, was up in a tight bun, but the agitation of the past few hours had seen some stray hairs come loose; the light formed a corona around her head as it reflected off these strands.
Justice Frankly, the vice-president of the Trinistian Supreme Court smiled humourlessly as he watched her eyes grow in horror and concern. He stroked his white beard as he watched his younger counterpart’s eyes move over the paper; he gripped his cane tightly and felt an ache ripple along his old back: six decades of sitting on the hard benches of the courts had done him no favours.
“He’s really fucked up this time, hasn’t he? That insane little prick is going to rip this kingdom apart, and he won’t even know he’s done it.” Frankly’s words fell on deaf ears as Bennett continued to scan the page; his eyes wandered around the vaulted chambers, marvelling at the enormous library covering one wall, the marble bust of Queen Wendy-Sia in an alcove, and the domed roof.
“Burnt One?” chuckled Bennett sardonically, looking, “that’s one I haven’t heard in a while. What the fuck possessed him to say it? I wonder sometimes if he really is insane, or if he’s playing us all for fools.”
“Whatever it is, he’s managed to throw the whole court into spasms. The Gracet family are up in arms about this; they’re probably the wealthiest family in the kingdom, Samuel’s made himself a powerful enemy here. He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t end up in one of their furnaces.”
“How do you plan to deal with this case?” asked Bennett, cutting through to the more important issues. The case, although a trivial one, was assigned immediately for trial in the Supreme Court—cases normally started in the lower courts, as the Supreme court was strictly a court of appeal; however, in cases brought against a noble, the Supreme Court could hear cases in the first instance. Bennett had pulled some strings and made sure that Frankly, the only member of the judiciary that she trusted to refuse a bribe from either side, was presiding.
“I don’t know,” Frankly sighed. “It’s patently absurd on the one hand: a petty accusation preceded by a racial slur should never reach the courts; I don’t know what Arxan is thinking. Legally speaking, not singing in tune isn’t a crime.
“But the problem is, that if we rule against Samuel, we risk fracturing the houses into royalist and constitutionalist factions. No matter what way I rule, I offend someone—and, moreover, risk my own neck. The easiest solution for this problem would be for Gracet to drop dead in her cell of natural causes.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t just hear that,” said Bennett, “and yes, this case is going to be a nightmare. Have you thought of Article 4?”
Article 4 of the Trinist constitution was open to interpretation, but some circles of the royalist factions held that it allowed nobles to escape from trial on the basis that their services to the crown were essential, indispensable and irreplaceable.
“I haven’t,” answered Frankly, grinning. “That would really screw things up, wouldn’t it? Using Article 4 to let Dame Gracet out would fuck over the royalists, and yet they couldn’t say anything because it’s their own interpretation of the article. This could be it! It’ll be easy to argue for, too: Gracet really is essential to the crown. Her empire provides vast amounts of taxes and jobs.”
Frankly mulled over the idea, while Bennett winced at Frankly’s filthy swearing habit.
“Yes,” Bennett agreed, “and it wouldn’t embarrass Samuel either: he couldn’t possibly have seen this coming. No one could blame him, and yet he gets off the hook scot-free.”
“Genius,” said Frankly, grinning as he realised the full implications of Bennett’s theory, “I think I’ll go with that.”
Turning slowly and wincing as his hips creaked with age, he swung his black cloak over his shoulders and moved towards the door. Watching him slam the door behind him, Bennett sighed weakly and collapsed into the high-backed chair behind her. Samuel had profoundly messed things up, and she hadn’t even gotten around yet to considering the implications of his racial slur; that issue could wait, however: for the moment, the stability of the kingdom was paramount.
Dame Gracet languished in her prison: she had, at least, been granted a room in the guest quarters, so that she had a bed and wash facilities. In fact, her imprisonment was no different to regular life, except for the guard outside her door who would not permit her any contact with the outside world.
Lying on her bed, her aching bones complained, and a maelstrom of emotions floated in her head. First and foremost, she was furious at the indignity of her treatment. She was only a minor noblewoman in the court, but she was highly respected as a diplomat and businesswoman and, as such, she was the de facto matriarch of the Samuelian court. Samuel had recognised this as being the case when he granted her a position in the front row of the auditorium—a position normally reserved for the monarch’s family, the senior clergy, and high-ranking nobles; to have accused her of such a petty offence was embarrassing, distressing and, ultimately, unfair.
On a minor note, she was also frustrated with the king’s racial attack; Gracet’s family descended from the Shliv’ta tribes, a scattering of loosely confederated warrior families that occupied the upper reaches of the southern mountains. Their people had been consumed by the Trinistian empire centuries ago, and were now mostly civilised and settled; Gracet’s particular tribe had fled the mountains to seek refuse in the Trinist capital a century ago, and her father had known minor success as a steel merchant. Gracet had used this minor start to catapult herself into success as the kingdom’s largest steel empire.
Shaken out of her reverie by a tap at the door, Gracet looked up to see her son, Jimson, standing at the threshold. With a cry of delight, she stood up and flew into his arms.