Greater of Two Evils, part 1

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 - 11:43 PM

'Salu catamite' was the first thought Deivon had upon seeing the young man before him. To Deivon's eye, the slight girlishness in the lad's features would harden into rather handsome lines in later years, and the dark eyes would not seem so large. But with his long, sleek black hair and light complexion, the boy would probably fetch a fine price on the slave markets to the south.
But the boy did not have a slave's modesty. He stood at ease, eyes downcast and undaunted, and his shoulders were back. The stony calm around him was one that Deivon recognized, however; it was the sort that covered turmoil, not the kind that came from the heart.

So, the lad's done something, at least.

Deivon was the High Magistrate of his province. It was a coveted position, and he'd wheedled, intimidated and bribed his way in. Secure in his station, Deivon presided over all provincial law in interpretation, approval and condemnation, and was never called upon except for the most severe of cases. Generally, unless it was something to benefit one of his powerful friends, he passed on his cases to lesser Magistrates.

This time, the Lord Whitemire made it clear that Deivon should provide, in no uncertain terms, a conviction. He also made it clear without saying so that Deivon would find himself quite a bit richer if all the loose ends were cut.

Buying his son another title appealed to Deivon, so he agreed.

Now, he wasn't sure why the Lord Whitemire was so emphatic about all this. The court was full. The commoners had their blood up. It wouldn't be difficult at all to hammer in the last coffin nail of a conviction. The commoners would even do all the work; he'd seen it time and again. All they needed was a reason to blame someone else for their problems, or a chance to hate someone more than they hated their own lives. It was an easy thing to make them do it.

He was assessing the lad for any similarity to nobles at court, entertaining the notion that the boy was a bastard that needed removing, when the warrants came to him. He glared at the warrants, sat back in surprise, and then looked down at the bailiffs who towered over the boy.
What he had intended to say changed when he saw the bailiffs. They hardly knew Deivon was there. They kept looking down at the boy with the attitude of a very large dog who, having discovered that the cat can inflict great harm, is anxious for permission to hurt back. Rather than address them, he spoke to the boy.

“Is your name Tristan, of the house of Sarna?”

The boy did not look up, and pronounced a firm and rather serene 'Yes.'

Deivon glanced at his peers, and the other Magistrates present looked back at him with cold and wary eyes. He'd heard rumors about devil worship in the province, but there were always rumors, usually targeting little hedge mages. The Tristan rumors were different, though. There was a ring of cold truth behind them, threatening.

He'd expected Tristan to be older.

Filing quickly through the warrants, he noted the silence of the crowd. That was usually preface to the havoc before a hanging, he thought. And what IS Whitemire's interest in all this? He briefly considered finding out Whitemire's interest and using it to push the very rich Lord, but dismissed the thought.

The warrants told him what he'd already heard, but with the dagger pointed at Tristan quite definitively. Evil omens, disappearances, blackmail, a couple of mysterious deaths and a plethora of other complaints he assumed were false accusations. Raising his eyes, he noted Tristan was now watching him directly with dark, hot eyes, and this unnerved him for some reason.

“Tristan ahn'Sarna, you have been accused of commerce with devils,” he snapped, lifting the warrants for emphasis. “You are also accused of causing the curse-death of Magistrate Lira Detweys...”

Here Deivon was forced to pause due to a blast of outrage from the crowd. Lira had been very popular. He let the crowd rant for a moment, and then rang the bell for silence.

“...and of Master Mathlan of Grofae, and of counterfeiting money, of theft, of the disappearance and possible death of five peasants, property of the Lord Whitemire, and of creating evil omens and vile marks in the land. There are a good many other crimes listed here, but they are incidental compared to your first. Do you deny the charges against you?”

Tristan paused for a moment, lifted his chin and spoke in a voice that carried through the courtroom.


The boy is mad, thought Deivon. “Such a crime, confessed, warrants a most painful death. Do you have any contrition? Asking the court for mercy and repenting of your crime may lessen your suffering.”

“I will not ask mercy for my crimes,” said Tristan clearly, and Deivon noticed how everyone listened. “But I will beg the court's indulgence to explain how I came to this, and reveal the name of a fellow conspirator.”

Deivon, at this point, believed the boy a fanatic. Fanatics unnerved Deivon, and he did not want it to show. Looking disdainfully at Tristan, he used his best world-weary but stern voice. “Speak, then, but be brief.”

There was a rumble of assent from the gallery, and Deivon was pleased until Tristan started speaking again. He was beginning to understand why the Lord Whitemire hated Tristan so much. The lad had the sort of poise and voice where people listened, even if they didn't want to.

“Brief as you like,” began Tristan, looking momentarily upward. “You and your fellows leech the wealth from those who create it. You and your fellows use the law to secure your own success at the expense of others. You and your fellows squat atop your hoards of spoiled children, of property and privilege, and you sneer at the common for having nothing. Yet the commons support you, buoy you up, and you keep them ignorant so that they never understand how little they have. And then, you and your fellows put on a kind mask and coerce your sad little followers into dying and starving just to make you richer. You, lords of the land, protectors of the people.”

Here, Tristan paused, and there was silence. Tristan looked at Deivon, carefully, as if he wanted to remember every detail, and Deivon saw a sliver of bright fear in those dark eyes.
Spurred by that fear, he was ready to condemn Tristan but the boy's soft, powerful voice kept him silent.

“Better that I consort with devils, who are sincere about their work, than the hypocritical monsters who judge me now.”

Then, the red flames erupted throughout the court, and when Deivon tried to scream, the fire ripped the air from his lungs and burned the life from him.

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At September 26, 2008 9:39 AM, Blogger MCHossman said...

This was rather brilliant, Monte. I enjoyed the setting, how information about the court system, the magistrate and the politics were imparted to the reader - both succinct and clear. A nice surprise twist at the end, too.

Bravo, this was packed full of cool.


At September 26, 2008 2:15 PM, Blogger Montgomery Mullen said...

I'm hoping the other Tristan entries come out as cool. There will be five, tracking moments along his lifetime.


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