The eighteenth day of October in the 940th year a.g.l. (entry continued)
I lay very still. My hands were still raised above my head, the way they had been when I tried to climb, and I felt my wrists and ankles being pinned to the ground by unseen guards. I didn't resist them. I was afraid that if I moved in the slightest, the lieutenant's sword would miss the spot he was aiming for, and I would die a more painful death than already awaited me.
There was a pause while a soft shuffle of footsteps gathered round me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that there were more than six guards here; I had been right in thinking that the full unit was after me. My gaze, though, was on the lieutenant, staring down at me with dark hatred in his eyes, and my one thought, outside of terror, was my growing concern as to how long he was going to make me wait like this before he finished his deed.
Softly he said, "Search him."
Instantly, on both sides of me, I felt hands touching my body, swiftly and firmly. I resisted an impulse to flinch away, mainly because I was uncertain as to what they were doing. What did it matter to them whether I had another weapon? I'd have no chance to use it. The hands ceased to touch me on my front, and then I was rolled over onto my stomach, and I could feel myself being touched again. Still I did not move, for now I could feel the lieutenant's blade against my spine.
God of Mercy, I thought. Is he really going to kill me in the back? For the first time I felt the impulse to speak – not to plead for my life, which was clearly forfeit, but to ask the lieutenant to give me an honorable death. Then I stifled the impulse. What did I know of Emorian honor? Perhaps in Emor there was no shame attached to being stabbed in the back, as a fleeing man might be killed.
"He is naked," said one of the guards, meaning of course that I was unarmed. There was another pause, and my shoulder-blades began to draw toward each other, bracing for the moment.
Then the lieutenant said, "All right, get him up. And bind his eyes too; we take no chances with this one."
My momentary bewilderment was ended by sharp pain as one of the guards jerked down my upraised hands down and began to bind them behind my back with a leather strap. Another guard was tying a cloth over my eyes. Then I was pulled to my feet.
This was worse than I had expected; I was not even going to be granted the quick death I had dreaded. They were going to take me some place where they could give me a slow, painful death – perhaps they would torture me for days. I felt myself begin to shiver once more, and this time I knew that it wasn't from the wind.
Given the fact that I had been travelling in near darkness, I ought not to have had any trouble travelling eye-bound, but there is a great difference between walking forward in the darkness on your own feet and being propelled forward without having a chance to feel the ground beneath you. I never fell; the hands holding me on either side wrenched me upward each time I stumbled. After a few minutes of this, I discovered to my fury that moisture was forming at the edge of my eyes. Death I could accept, pain I would endure somehow, but this march of humiliation seemed calculated to break my spirit.
Presently the hands released me, and someone pushed me sideways, then forward. On either side of me I could feel rocks brushing against my arms; from the hollowness of the footsteps before me and behind me, I could tell that we were in the tunnel leading to the hut. The patrol guards must have marched me over the wooden plank across the pit, for the echoes of my footsteps ceased. I felt grass under my feet for a while, then the hands took hold of me again, and I travelled through open air for a short space before being suddenly thrust forward. I stumbled and fell to my knees, just saving myself from falling entirely to the floor. The ground beneath me was dirt, the air felt warm, and there were low voices speaking around me that had a hollow tone to them. I must be in some sort of enclosure again.
I heard the lieutenant saying something soft to his men. I was raised to my feet, less harshly than I had been thrown forward, and the cloth was removed from my eyes.
I found I was standing in a small room – this must be the hut I had seen in the hollow. Immediately in front of me was an open hearth-fire that was the sole source of light in the room. Beyond it, most of the soldiers were crowded around a dark, open doorway. Then they stepped back, and from the room beyond the main chamber stepped the sublieutenant.
He took no notice of me. He went over to the lieutenant, who was standing near me, and pulled his sword from his sheath. For a moment, he held the blade flat against his face; then he sheathed his weapon once more.
"How is he?" asked the lieutenant in Emorian.
"He will live." The sublieutenant's gaze wandered over toward me for the first time, and his brows dived low. "He caught Fowler's side – the wound is bad, but his life's blood has not spilled without measure. Gamaliel says that he should be taken back to the city. He doubts that Fowler will recover before the snows fall."
The door in the back was closing, and the other soldiers had begun to turn my way. The lieutenant was looking at me now as well; his expression had not grown any lighter since he first captured me. I felt my lungs being squeezed short at the same moment that my breath quickened. Now, I thought, they will begin.
"Very well, sir," said the lieutenant to me in Common Koretian. "You obviously wanted badly to cross the border. You may as well tell us why."
I must have gaped – at least, that was what I was feeling inside. But perhaps my expression came across as defiance, for the next thing I knew the lieutenant had me pinned by both shoulders against the wall. "Listen, Koretian," he said, his voice still even and cool, though his hands were pressed hard against me, "you just wounded one of my best men. I am not in a mood to be patient. You will answer the questions I ask you."
My voice came out in a feeble sort of tremble. "You won't believe me."
"You have nothing to lose by telling me the truth," said the lieutenant, still very cool. "You have a great deal to lose by not speaking."
Blocked from my view by the lieutenant, the sublieutenant said, "He is probably going to say that his gods made him do it. That is what Koretians always say when they break the law."
The one, small part of me that was still functioning rationally put out an urgent message that I must not mention the gods in my reply. This created a difficulty – I had never before tried to censor all reference to the gods in my speech – but the lieutenant was clearly not prepared to wait long, so I switched over to Emorian, which gave me an excuse to stumble slowly through my speech. "I wanted to be Emorian," I said. "I knew that you wouldn't let me into your land without a letter of passage, but I wanted to become one of you. I wanted—" I hesitated before remembering what Fenton had said about the law. This was how I could find a substitute for speaking of the gods. "I wanted to take a vow of service to the Chara."
There was a good deal of murmuring going on between the soldiers now, but the lieutenant didn't move his gaze. He still had me pinned to the wall, and his face was but a hand's span from mine. "I see," he said. "Is there any particular reason you were so eager to do this?"
"My family is in a blood feud."
The side of the lieutenant's mouth quirked up, though his eyes remained angry. "You fled to Emor so that you would not be murdered?"
"No. So that I wouldn't have to murder."
The lieutenant made no reply; he still hadn't released me. I thought wildly to myself that I would never be able to explain. He must have heard of blood feuds, but he couldn't understand what it was like to take part in one. I wouldn't have understood if it hadn't happened to me. I might as well remain quiet and let them do whatever it was that they planned to do to me.
But I found myself saying, "I wanted to live in a land where there are no blood feuds. I heard about the Chara's law – about how murderers in Emor are brought to judgment, and no one has to kill out of blood-lust. I wanted to find out more about this law. It seemed to me that it must be more worthy of honor than—" I faltered, then concluded, "Than the gods."
The murmuring in the room had died out. The lieutenant straightened his elbows so that, while he was still holding me, he was further back from me now. "Carle," he said.
The sublieutenant's head appeared over the lieutenant's shoulder. "Sir?"
"Is he telling the truth?"
The sublieutenant looked into my eyes, peering as closely at me as I used to look at Emorian writings I was trying to translate. Sublieutenant Carle said slowly, "Yes, sir, I believe he is."
The lieutenant released my shoulders with a suddenness that startled me. "So you like the idea of Emorian law, do you?"
I nodded mutely.
"Do you think what you did just now was lawful?" asked the lieutenant softly.
I swallowed; my throat was so tightly closed that even that was painful. "I don't know, sir," I said. "I don't know any Emorian law."
"Let me try another question. Do you think that what you did was just? Do you think that it was right?"
"He has no understanding of justice, sir," said Carle with disgust. "He does whatever his gods tell him to do."
I could feel myself growing dizzy with bewilderment again. Was it right for me to have attacked a man who had been keeping me from doing what I wanted? The question would never have occurred to me. If I were in my village— No, that wouldn't do; if I were in my village, I would either be dead or undergoing torture by now. There must be some reason that the lieutenant was asking me these questions. Well, in the old days, would I have thought that the gods would approve of what I did? Despite Carle's statement, it seemed to me that that was closer to what the lieutenant was asking me, but I was still unsure of an answer.
"I don't know, sir," I said. "Perhaps it wasn't."
In the silence that followed, I could hear the crackle of the fire and the moan of the wounded man in the next room, but nothing more. Then the lieutenant said, "I will give you a choice, then. You can return to Koretia now and start your life over again. Or you can undergo judgment by Emorian law for what you did. The maximum penalty for your crime is death."
It wasn't clear to me what he was offering. On the one hand, he seemed to be offering to let me go, as long as I went back to Koretia . . . and that was a fate that I was not prepared to contemplate. On the other hand, he was asking me to accept certain death – or was it certain?
"Did you say 'maximum penalty,' sir?" I asked.
"Yes. You could be given a lesser sentence." Then, seeing my blank look, he added, "A lesser punishment. But I cannot promise that; you might be sentenced to death."
"The question is not which penalty is worse," said Carle. "By the law-structure, lieutenant, is it not clear that this boy has no understanding? He is just trying to find the easiest way out. He cares nothing about what he has done."
Somehow, Carle's words made it clear to me what I was being offered. I felt a burst of joy and said, "Will you do that? Will you show me how the law works?"
"It would not be a game," said the lieutenant. "You would be on trial for your life."
"That doesn't matter," I said impatiently. "I'd rather die than go back to Koretia. But if I could just know first what the law is—" I stopped, thought back to the words I had heard Carle speak at the fireside, and added, "It would be worth dying, to know what the law is and to be obedient to its consequences, even for a short time."
The soldiers' murmuring returned once more; I heard one of them mutter, "Heart of Mercy," but I did not hear the rest of this mysterious oath. The lieutenant was exchanging looks with Carle. After a moment he said, "Very well. What is your name?"
"Adrian son of Berenger," I replied.
"Adrian, since you are in the black border mountains, you are under my care and therefore under my judgment; I will be the judge for your trial. Carle, who is the witness?"
"Devin, you are the herald, Payne is the clerk, and Sewell is the summoner; we may as well do this properly for the benefit of the prisoner's education. As for a guide— Adrian."
"Since you know little of the law, you are entitled to a guide to answer your questions during the trial and explain to you what is happening. Sublieutenant Carle is appearing as a witness against you, but he also happens to be the man in this unit who knows the most about Emorian law. Are you willing to accept him as your guide, or would you prefer that I appoint someone else?"
I looked over at the sublieutenant uncertainly. He no longer looked angry, but I couldn't read his look; it was as if a mask had appeared over his face. "He would be fine, sir," I said, "if – if he wishes to be my guide."
The lieutenant raised his eyebrows toward Carle in query. Carle said, with phrasing that appeared deliberate, "I would be glad to undertake this duty, sir. I want him to have a fair trial."
"Let me know when you are ready, then. I will be in the storeroom in the meantime." And the lieutenant, without looking my way again, walked over to the room in the back.
I looked around uncertainly. Most of the guards had withdrawn to the other side of the hut and were standing there, talking in low voices amongst themselves, but two guards came forward to join Carle and me. One, who appeared to be struggling to keep anger from his face, barely glanced at me as he pulled off his back-sling and rummaged in it. From it he took a pen, an inkwell, and a small wooden board that had paper pinned to it.
He knelt down onto the ground to open the ink, but my attention was distracted by the other guard who had come over to stand by us. His face was white, whiter even than Carle's, and his hair was the color of sun-bleached cloth. Even his eyelashes were blond, as though all bodily color had been stolen from him. He said, with an accent I could barely understand, "What is your pleasure, sublieutenant?"
Carle glared at him, as though the guard's light words were unfitting for the occasion. "I request a charge, Sewell," he said shortly. "I wish to charge Adrian son of Berenger, lesser free-man, with the murder of Fowler son of Serge, lesser free-man."
"Murder!" I exclaimed, taking a worried look at the door through which the lieutenant had left.
"Attempted murder," Carle amended. "It is the same charge, under the law."
"But—" I stopped to look at Sewell, who was watching the other guard scribble down some words as he rose to his feet, pen and paper in hand.
Sewell glanced over at me. "Do you wish to dispute the request?"
I looked uncertainly at Carle, who said, "He is not asking you whether you dispute the charge – whether you are innocent or guilty. He wants to know whether you think that he should charge you with a lesser crime. Sewell is the court summoner, and it is his job to decide whether you should be charged with a crime. The lieutenant, who is judge, can overrule Sewell's decision, but only if he justifies his actions to the higher courts."
"The higher courts?" I said in some bewilderment.
"There is only one court higher than the mountain patrol court," said Sewell, leaning over Payne's shoulder to see what he had written. "That is the Court of Judgment, the Chara's court. If the lieutenant overruled me, he would have to tell the Chara why he did that, so it is unlikely he will overrule me."
I stood where I had been this whole time, pressed against the wall, my hands bound behind me, and feeling increasingly foolish. My life depended on my saying the right words now, but I felt as though I had been asked to learn an entire language in just a few minutes. Sewell waited expectantly for me to reply, then raised his yellow-white eyebrows at Carle when I did not.
"Let us try it this way," said Carle. "Are you surprised that I would charge you with attempted murder? Is that the crime you were expecting to be charged with?"
"I wasn't trying to kill Fowler," I said in a small voice.
Around the hut, the mountain winds continued to whistle. One of the guards went to the door, which had been closed during this time, and opened it a crack before returning to where the other guards stood, murmuring together and occasionally glancing our way. The central fire painted leaping light upon Sewell's face as he said, "Sublieutenant, I am going to have to question the prisoner in private, since you are presenting testimony against him. You can give Payne your witness in the meantime."
Carle nodded, and I watched with concern as my guide and the pen-bearing guard went over into another corner. As they left, Sewell said softly, "Whatever you tell me won't be used in your trial. I just want to determine whether the right charge has been requested against you. What sort of charge did you expect the sublieutenant to make against you?"
"I wasn't trying to kill Fowler," I repeated. "I just wanted to get past him. I did wound him, but I tried not to hurt him badly."
Sewell nodded. "Then you believe that you should be tried under the charge of striking a free-man."
"Striking?" I said tentatively.
Sewell smiled suddenly. "It's a law term. It means any injury that isn't intended to kill."
I nodded wordlessly, and Sewell said, "Very well. You must be skilled with your blade to have breached Fowler's guard. If you didn't kill him, I'll assume that it was because you didn't intend to do so. In the name of the Chara, whose law I am sworn to serve, I charge you under the Law of Assault. The sentence for such a crime is mercy or beating or branding."
I felt what remained of my supper curdling within my stomach. Branding – and not a brand I could hide, as Fenton had hidden his old slave-brand under his sleeve, but a brand on my cheek, to show everyone I met that I had committed a terrible crime. If Emorians were great law-lovers, as Fenton had said, what hope would I have of being accepted in this land when I was branded with the symbol of my lawbreaking? The patrol might as well send me back to Koretia.
I said, struggling to keep my breathing even, "How does the judge decide which sentence to give me?"
"Carle!" The sublieutenant, who had been speaking all this while to Payne as the latter scribed words on the paper, raised his head as Sewell called to him. Sewell said, "The prisoner has a question about his sentences. Are you through there?"
Carle nodded. As he came over to stand by us, Sewell added, "I am charging him under the Law of Assault. Do you wish to appeal my decision to the lieutenant?"
Carle wordlessly shook his head. Then, to my dismay, he reached down to his thigh-pocket. I pressed myself further back against the wall, and a humorless smile flickered across the sublieutenant's face. "Be at peace," he said as he pulled out his thigh-dagger and turned it so that its hilt faced me. "You are not in Koretia – no one is going to murder you. I am releasing your hands. Prisoners are not bound unless they have been charged with a crime that carries a sentence of death. What is your question about the sentences?"
As he pulled me around and used the slender dagger-hilt to pry open the knot in the strap, I repeated my question. He replied, "The judge can find you innocent, or he can find you guilty to varying degrees. If you wounded Fowler willfully and with clear understanding – if you knew what you were doing and you had no excuse for doing it – then the lieutenant will sentence you to a branding. If you wounded Fowler without clear understanding – if you did not realize what you were doing when you committed the crime – then he will sentence you to a beating. If you wounded Fowler under provocation – if something or someone made you do it – then you will still be found guilty, but the judge will show mercy to you and will not sentence you to punishment. Is that clear? You have to decide how to plead your charge – whether or not to admit your guilt, and if you admit it, then to what degree you will say you are guilty."
I considered this as I rubbed my numb wrists. Finally I said, "Saying that something made me do it – what does that mean?"
Carle glanced over at Sewell, who had been murmuring to Payne as the other guard rapidly scribed words on the paper. Sewell looked Carle's way, raised his eyebrows again, and continued speaking to the guard who was acting as clerk.
"Well, you cannot blame your gods." Carle's voice, which had been neutral until now, took on a tinge of sarcasm. "Self-defense is considered provocation; if you thought that Fowler was going to attack you even if you surrendered yourself to him, you could use that as a way to defend yourself against the full charge. Or if you thought that the patrol was going to kill you unlawfully, that is a defense. For that matter, if you thought that you would be murdered in your blood feud if you returned to Koretia, you could use that as a defense." He would have spoken further, but I nodded quickly, and he said, "That is what you will plead? Guilty, but with provocation?"
"Yes," I said. "And then the lieutenant decides on my sentence?"
"After he has heard our witnesses. Devin, I think we are ready." He said this with raised voice to a guard standing next to the storeroom door, then added immediately, "No, wait. Listen, Adrian, we are informal in the patrol court; we use no more ceremony than a village court. But I know what informality means to you Koretians. You cannot just talk whenever you feel like it. You can ask me questions, and if you do not understand what I say, you can ask permission to speak to the judge. But otherwise, you only speak when the judge tells you to. Understand?" I nodded, and Carle said, "The prisoner is ready, Devin."
Devin opened the door a crack, murmured something across the gap, and then closed the door again and said in a booming voice, "All rise; the judge approaches."
Everyone was already standing, but I saw the other guards stiffen and fall silent as the storeroom door opened. The lieutenant looked different from when I had seen him last. He was wearing a cloak, though he had worn only a tunic a short time ago, and he was also wearing a gold chain that lay flat against his chest as he came over to stand against the far wall of the hut. But the greatest change was in his face, which was now drained of all anger and any other emotion. His eyes, cool and reserved, rested upon me briefly before settling upon Devin.
Devin, who had apparently been waiting for this signal, promptly proclaimed, "Let it be known that the Court of the Border Mountain Patrol in the Empire of Emor is now opened. This is the fifteenth day of October in the nine hundred and fortieth year after the giving of the law. The judge for the day is—" He hesitated, looked over at the lieutenant, and said quickly, "The Lieutenant of the Border Mountain Patrol is the judge. Let all who speak in this place do so with truth and with reverence for the law."
I waited for the lieutenant to speak then, to ask me why I had done what I did, but it was Payne who stepped forward and said, "Adrian son of Berenger, you have been brought here to answer a charge made against you by Carle, Sublieutenant of the Border Mountain Patrol. The charge is that you did willfully and with clear understanding strike a free-man, namely Fowler, Soldier of the Border Mountain Patrol. The witness in this charge is Sublieutenant Carle, and the sentence for such a crime is mercy or beating or branding. Do you—"
I had been trying for some time to interrupt; now I said rapidly, "Yes, I know all this. Soldier Sewell explained—"
I stopped; Carle had thrust his elbow into my ribs. I took a quick glance at his glowering face; then I looked over at Sewell, who had raised his eyes and was studiously watching the smoke disappear through a small hole in the ceiling. I bit my lip shut.
Payne said, as though I had not spoken, "Do you deny the charge?"
I looked hesitantly over at Carle. He nodded slightly, and I said, "I'm not sure— That is, I know that I'm guilty, but I wounded Fowler— I mean, I struck him under provocation. I think I did, anyway."
Carle hissed, "Do not look at me. Look at the judge."
I turned my attention back to the lieutenant. He was standing as still as before; only his cloak rustled from a breeze whistling through the doorway. Beside him, Payne said, "The prisoner pleads that he is guilty but states that his crime was done under provocation. Let the witness against the prisoner be called."
"Carle, Sublieutenant of the Border Mountain Patrol!" cried Devin in a booming voice.
Carle took one step forward, and I waited for him to speak, but the lieutenant's muteness seemed to have carried over to him as well, for he stood silently as Payne shuffled through some sheets in his hand. Then Payne said, "The witness against the prisoner is as follows—"
After a moment, I realized that Payne was reciting what Carle had seen after I attacked Fowler. The witness was dry and concise – so concise that it was over almost before it had begun, and Payne was soon saying, "Is this your witness against the prisoner?"
"It is," replied Carle in a voice as dry as his witness.
"Step forward, then."
Carle did so, and I watched with bewilderment as he took the scribing board and pen Payne offered him, and wrote something short on the page Payne had been reading. Then Carle stepped back and rejoined me.
My head was beginning to spin with uncertainty. I almost wished I was back in Koretia, being placed under trial for my broken vow. There, at least, I would have known what I was facing: a long, three-way argument between myself, my father, and the gods' representative, Fenton's successor. There would have been much shouting before the matter was settled, but at least I would have had the opportunity to defend myself. I was beginning to doubt that I would be allowed to do so here.
"Does any other witness stand in this court?" Devin paused, and I glanced to the where the other patrol guards were standing, but all of them continued to watch the proceedings silently. Devin cried, "The prisoner may offer his witness!"
"Address the judge," Carle whispered into my ear, perhaps doubtful by now that I could follow instructions unless they were repeated. "Keep to the point. Tell him only the relevant facts."
I wondered what the relevant facts were. I took a step forward awkwardly, cleared my throat, and said, "Sir, I—"
"Call him Judge," hissed Carle.
We proceeded slowly, me explaining that I had taken a blood vow to avenge the death of my blood brother, Carle correcting the manner of my witness at intervals. When we reached the point of the breaking of my blood vow, I hesitated, knowing that my next witness would condemn me in any trial of the gods' law. But I was here because I believed that the Emorians' law was a just law, so I told the entire tale of the breaking of my blood vow and of my decision to flee to Emor. I skipped forward to the moment when I struck Fowler with my dagger; then, having described that, I hesitated, uncertain.
The room was silent, but for the whistle of wind. The door of the hut had been eased further open by the wind's hand during the proceedings, and only the faint warmth of the fire ate away at the chill in my body. Yet sweat ran down my back.
The lieutenant had been utterly still during my witness, with no change of expression to help me assess what he thought of my tale. Now, in a voice as level as an altar, he said, "I wish to question the prisoner."
"The judge may interrogate you or the other witnesses if he has questions about the witness that has been given," Carle explained in a whisper.
Still with no movement but that of his mouth, the lieutenant asked, "If you had settled in another Koretian village, would your life have been in danger?"
I looked at Carle. He nodded, and I said, "If it was a village in the borderland, my family might have found me in the end. But if I'd travelled farther south— No, probably not."
"So you had a choice besides breaching the Emorian border."
I felt a lump forming in my throat, but I forced myself to say, "Yes."
"So you did not need to enter Emor in order to save your life."
"I didn't just come here to save my life— It was everything— I had to know— It was because of the law—" I abandoned my efforts and said in a dull voice, "No, I didn't have to enter Emor in order to keep from being killed."
The lieutenant allowed Payne barely enough time to scribe these words before he said, "You gave witness that you did not intend to harm any patrol guards. Why, then, did you strike Soldier Fowler?"
"I didn't mean to," I said miserably. "I was just frightened and – I didn't think. If I'd had time to think, I wouldn't have hurt him."
Another pause followed. Payne, I saw, was continuing to scribe all that the lieutenant and I were saying, while Devin appeared alert, apparently sensing the approach of the trial's end. Two of the guards had wandered over to the open doorway, as though fearing that I would attempt flight. There was a pause.
"I wish to give witness," said the lieutenant in a flat voice.
I stared. At my ear, Carle said, "The judge normally does not give witness, but if he believes that a judgment is in balance and that his own witness will tilt the balance, he is duty-bound to speak. You will have the opportunity afterwards to dispute the witness."
I acknowledged Carle's words with a nod, but my gaze had already fallen to the floor. I knew what witness the lieutenant would give. He was the only man who had seen me, not once, but twice with a blade drawn against him. This was the proof needed to condemn me as a dishonorable lawbreaker.
"On two occasions, the prisoner held a naked blade in his hand in my presence," said the lieutenant, his voice still curiously flat. "On both occasions, the prisoner discarded the blade rather than attack me, despite the fact that he was in imminent danger of capture. I offer this witness in support of the prisoner's witness that he did not intend to harm the patrol, and that his crime was undertaken without clear understanding of his deed."
Devin had been watching the lieutenant throughout his speech; now he turned to look at Payne and raised his eyebrows. Payne gave a slight shrug. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the other guards exchanging glances.
I felt moisture trickling down from my mouth and realized that my mouth was hanging open. I rubbed my face against my sleeve, began to speak, and closed my mouth again hastily.
I missed whatever signal the lieutenant gave Devin. Devin announced to the far corners of the hut, "The prisoner may speak."
"I don't understand," I said. My eyes were now on the lieutenant, trying to read from his expression or his pose what his thoughts were. "You spoke for me. You didn't have to say what you did. You could have remained silent. Yet I nearly killed one of your guards. If we were in Koretia, you'd have killed me. Why . . ." My breath failed me momentarily. "What made you do this? What made you help me?"
"I could have spoken out of fear," the lieutenant replied in the same formal voice he had used before. "If any of my men knew or suspected that I was omitting important witness in a case I was judging, they would be duty-bound to place a charge against me with the Chara's court summoners."
I was already shaking my head before he finished speaking; I had seen the guards exchange glances again. "I don't think it was that," I said. "I don't think you told the others what happened between us – at least, not about the last encounter between us. Nobody else knew – not the soldiers, not the Chara. No one knew, so why did you tell?"
I could not have said whether the lieutenant's voice was still formal, for when he replied, it was in a soft voice that barely reached me. "I knew," he said. "And if I had broken my vow to the Chara, I would have known."
The door must have blown all of the way open at that moment, for I felt a chill cover me as though the famous northern snows had fallen upon me. I understood then what Fenton tried to tell me a month ago: I knew then why it was that the Emorians had no need for vengeful gods. What were the gods but the creators and upholders of the gods' law? And what kept men from breaking the gods' law? Not fear of the gods and their vengeance – that hadn't stopped me from breaking my vow.
What kept men from breaking the gods' law was desire for honor. I knew that, I who had stripped myself of all honor five days ago and had lived in dishonor ever since. I could never have had the courage to do that if I had not suspected that a greater honor lay beyond the gods' law. Here, in the land where I had fled to, so great was men's sense of honor that they did not even require gods to peer into their spirits and bring vengeance upon them if they went astray. Their own sense of honor kept them from breaking the law – the true law, the Chara's law.
The lieutenant had been watching my face all this time. Now he said, "I will not give you false witness as to the nature of Emor; Emorians exist who will lie in court. Lying occurs in this land, and murder, and all the misdeeds you know in Koretia. This is the Land of the Living, not the Land Beyond; you will not find perfection in Emor."
"I'm not looking for perfect men," I said, my throat tight. "Just a law that makes men try to be perfect. I'm looking for a law worthy of honor."
The lieutenant simply looked at me. I could not tell whether or not I'd said the right thing. I no longer cared whether I said the right thing. I'd said the truth – and here, here in this court where truth meant honor, that was all that mattered.
He found me guilty through lack of clear understanding and sentenced me to forty lashes. I had half expected that, after the witness he gave me on my behalf, but even so I felt a mixture of sickness and relief when he handed down the sentence: Sickness that, so new to this land, I had already committed a crime. Relief that I had not been judged to be worse.
"Do you wish to appeal my sentence to the higher court?" the lieutenant asked as he slipped off his cloak and chain and gave them to Devin. In exchange, Devin offered him something that flashed grey-bright, like a lake. As the lieutenant pinned closed his neck-flap, I saw what the clasp was: a silver brooch, whose open metalwork depicted a mountain barred by a sword. Now that I looked closer, I could see that the same picture was faintly woven upon his right sleeve, black against black. And all of the other guards here – I saw at a quick glance – wore the same brooches, though the metal differed from person to person: either copper or dull iron. Carle wore a copper brooch. Only the lieutenant wore a silver brooch.
I looked back to see that the lieutenant was watching me levelly, and I remembered the question he had asked me. I had a sudden vision of myself in the Chara's court, being stared upon by the ruler of the Emorian Empire, his expression as cold as the lieutenant's, or even colder . . . "Please, no!" I blurted out.
Devin put his hand over his mouth, and for a moment I even thought I saw the lieutenant's mouth twitch. But the lieutenant simply said, "Then wait outside, please. Carle, a word with you." He turned aside from me.
I looked round, but everybody was avoiding looking at me. After a minute of staring uncertainly, I followed the order I'd been given and left the hut.
When I got outside, I went to the corner-post of the cottage and leaned against it, shivering in the sharp wind as I remembered all the beatings I had witnessed as a child. There weren't many; beatings are a serious matter in Koretia, inflicted only on serious criminals, such as thieves. I remember one such thief, sobbing as the whip lashed open his bare skin.
The sky was turning grey with dawn. I wondered whether any Koretians were taking advantage of this moment to slip over the border. Then I wondered why I had been allowed to leave the cottage alone. Surely I could easily slip away from the patrol and escape my punishment.
But no, if I travelled in the direction of Emor, the patrol's sharp-eared lieutenant would surely catch me again. If I travelled in the direction of Koretia . . .
That was why the lieutenant had allowed me to come out here alone, I realized: to give me the opportunity to run away, to turn my back on the Chara's law. I straightened my spine and waited.
After a few minutes, patrol guards began to leave the cottage, one by one. None of them looked my way. They disappeared into the tunnel, four of them; then there was a space of time in which I waited for Sublieutenant Carle to leave for his daily patrol as well, but he didn't come. I wondered whether he had decided to spend the day sleeping, after his exhausting hunt the night before.
The cottage door opened again, and a man exited. It was Carle. In his left hand was a flask, and in his right hand was a whip.
My breath left me all of the sudden, and my knees felt as though they would give way. So quickly departed the courage I had hoped would sustain me. Carle reached me just as I was sure I would fall to the ground. With a grim look on his face, he took hold of my arm, so hard that I yelped. His look turned to contempt.
He pulled me round to the side of the cottage. There, crammed between two rocks high up on the cottage wall, was a whipping ring. Carle released me, and I looked hopefully at the flask; was it perhaps drugged wine, meant to dull the pain of my punishment? But Carle simply placed the flask on the ground and ordered me to strip to my loincloth. When I had done this, he bound my wrists to the ring with the now-familiar leather strap. I had to stand on my toes to reach the ring; its creator had evidently assumed that all prisoners would be of a full-grown height.
I looked over at Carle, who had shifted to the side in order to inspect his handiwork. There was nothing reassuring about his expression. He looked like a dueller who plans that the first blood he draws should be the last.
His gaze dropped down to me. "The lieutenant showed you pity," he said. "Expect none from me."
No reply could be made to such a statement, and so I remained silent. Carle stepped back. I was shivering hard now from the chill of the autumn wind against my bare skin.
Then his lash bit into my back, and my body blazed with pain.
Forty lashes, the lieutenant had said. I tried to count them, as a way to focus my mind on something other than the red pain that gnawed at my back like a hungry animal. Soon I was gasping; then I was sobbing; and then, without warning, night swept down upon me.
In the next moment, I learned the purpose of the flask, as Carle dashed the flask-water into my face. I came back to my senses, sputtering from the water that had made its way into my nose and mouth. I opened my eyes to see Carle looking at me. This time, his contempt took the form of a dark smile.
"What weaklings you Koretians are," he said. "The lieutenant, in his pity, gave you twenty fewer lashes than he would have given an Emorian, and you cannot even bear those."
I mumbled my reply, and Carle's smile disappeared. "What did you say?"
I was afraid that, if I wasn't clear this time, I would not have the courage to say it again, so I shouted my reply: "Give me sixty lashes!"
Carle's face was like a thundercloud. He moved out of sight, and his whip whistled through the air before it tore into my back.
I counted the lashes till they reached forty, and then I kept counting, and then I lost all awareness of anything but the lash, slicing into my flesh with sickening thoroughness. Somewhere, dimly, I could hear a voice, calling upon the God of Mercy, and I realized with horror that the voice was mine.
I don't remember how Carle got me back inside the cottage. He must have carried me, I suppose. The next thing I remember is hearing myself scream as my back touched the pallet. Somebody said something, and I was lifted. Wine was forced into my mouth, and I choked on it but forced myself to swallow the liquid, because I could taste the heavy drugs that I knew would ease my pain.
I was pushed back onto the pallet, gently this time, being placed on my side rather than my back. After a minute, I opened my eyes.
Carle was nowhere in sight. A patrol guard I hadn't seen before was kneeling beside me, cutting out bandages with his dagger. Above him, looking down at me, was the lieutenant.
"Well, Adrian," he said, "what do you think of the Chara's law now?"
There was no mockery to his tone. With effort, I whispered, "Will you let me enter Emor?"
I could barely hear my own voice, but he nodded slowly. "You have earned the right."
I wasn't sure what he was saying – whether he was saying that my punishment had earned me the right, or that my conduct at the trial had earned me the right. It didn't matter. For it had come to me that, whether or not he let me enter Emor, I had known the Chara's law, and had seen its justice. That was all that mattered. I could die now.
I said something of this, I don't know what – I must have been incoherent. But whatever I said caused the lieutenant to suddenly kneel by me and put his hand on my shoulder. He looked over at the guard beside me. "Gamaliel?" he said.
"He will live." Gamaliel didn't look up from where he was cutting bandages.
The lieutenant's hand tightened on my shoulder, as though the other man's answer truly mattered to him. Then he looked back at me. "Sleep, Adrian," he said. "Nobody will send you back to Koretia against your will. I swear that."
He was not the sort of man, I knew, to treat an oath lightly. I felt myself relax, and my head began to swim, and then I fell into the deepest sleep I had ever known.