Prince of Liars
It was a dream brought on by fever and delirium, or so his orderly mind believed.
Javert stood at the open door, at the foot of worn stone steps. Before him stretched the long brick passage, its walls wet and glistening in the light that filtered in at the far end. Between him and this exit, a figure lumbered away slowly.
The silhouette obeyed his command, and slowly turned. It was a creature of massive size, almost filling the passage, black against the light beyond. With heavy breath, vapor clouds curled in a wreath around its head, where two pinpoints of red shone in place of eyes. There was a gun in Javerts hand, and he steadied his aim in the figures direction. Had he been hunting this, following it here? A deep rasping voice broke the silence.
"You should not stop me, Inspector."
"Who are you?"
"Do not ask. If you were to know, you would be lost."
The hammer of the pistol clicked, pulled to full-cock. Javert intended to fire if his demands were not met.
"Who are you?" he repeated.
"I caution you, Javert. The knowledge will be your undoing."
"So be it. I am your devil, and for that information, you have sold yourself to me."
The creature began its lumbering gait back along the passage in Javerts direction.
"Halt, or I shall fire."
There was no hint of fear in his voice or anxious tremor of hand. The Inspector knew what he had to do, and when the beast did not stop, he fired.
The report ripped through the close passage with a crack and a roar. The creature did not react, continuing its progress undaunted. The pace remained deliberate and Javert stepped back instinctively. The door suddenly closed at his back, and he was claimed by the darkness.
The law, as men profess and follow, does not exist in the realm of dream. There are no rules, no civilization, no appeals nor courts to hear them. For a man who did not believe in heaven or hell beyond that which one creates for himself, such a notion was as impossible as it was unthinkable.
"The prisoner will stand."
Javert heard the words before he could open his eyes. He was bent with a strange weight engulfing him. When he blinked and focused his vision, he saw nothing but the broad planks of flooring at his feet. Murmurs swarmed like hornets at his ears and he felt himself seized by the arms, forced to rise. What was this?
He lifted his head and saw around him a vast courtroom, the galleries filled with angry faces. By his side, two officials of the court-- guards-- who released their hold once he was on his feet. He was in the dock, facing a tribunal of grim faced judges, the ranking member banging his gavel for order.
"What is this place? Who are you?" the Inspector demanded. How was it he had come here, as a prisoner? He shook his head, trying to dismiss the sight from his mind. This was impossible.
"The prisoner will not speak unless directed to do so." The magistrate barked roughly.
"Prisoner? This is absurd! I am Inspector Javert, of the--"
"The court is well aware of the prisoners identity."
More grumblings from the attendants followed, and the gavel hammered for order and peace once more. He will keep silent or the court will have him gagged.
Javert looked sharply to his left and right. The guards, judges and officers of the court were all strangers to him. He found that weight that pressed on him were chains and manacles on hands and feet, but all confusion was quickly replaced by rage.
"I demand to be heard! I am not a criminal-- how dare you restrain me-- release me at once!"
A single sharp nod from the magistrate was all the direction needed. One of the guards slipped a leather strap over the prisoners head, pulling it tight into place over his mouth. Javert was further enraged to be censored like a common felon. He tossed his head violently as if to shake off his restraint, but a firm grip on the strap by his guard brought an end to this vain struggle.
"Inspector Javert, you have been brought before this court to answer for your innumerable crimes against the people and Republic of France, your continued violence against and disservice to your fellow man and defiance in the face of Divine Law."
Disservice? Divine Law?? What was this person raving about? Javerts sense of order and logic had already been violated by the physical restrictions forced upon him-- and now this insane babble of some imagined crimes and supposed wrongs against-- God and man? It was beyond absurd! Were they all mad?
A second member of the panel facing him took up a page of foolscap and stood.
"Having read the charges, the court would now like to present witness in support of these findings." Javert pulled against the grip of his guards, but their combined efforts were redoubled, and he was held immobile to observe proceedings in mute horror. Who accused him?? Who dared stand up to denounce the Law??
In quick succession, figures seated in the gallery began to stand. Those already standing moved to the front, lining the railings two and three deep. These men and women, in ragged clothing, genteel dress or prison issued smocks and caps, glared with cold dead eyes at the man in the dock. Javert knew a few by name, and recognized others by sight-- but they seemed mostly strangers to him. They were varied in age, health, and class, but the hatred in their eyes was all the same.
These people were law-breakers-- criminals who had come before the bar and received their punishment under the law through the Inspectors own dedicated efforts. Felons, cheats, whores and murderers--- How dare they stand in judgment against him! The magistrate leveled his eyes on the prisoner, a sardonic grin altering his stern features.
"It would seem, by the expression on your face, that these people are all known to you?"
Javert huffed angrily, snorting like a bull, seething behind the leather strap. He could not answer, and had he been permitted to speak, he would have denounced this official, his court, and the ridiculous charges against him. The robed man who was still standing turned his gaze to the chief judge.
"Perhaps, if the prisoner will confine himself to answering the questions put to him, we may permit him to speak?"
The official nodded and turned a harsh glare to the man in the dock.
"Do we have your word, monsieur, that you will keep your tongue in check?"
"Let him speak." a voice behind the dock insisted. For a moment Javert thought he recognized it, but was unable by his circumstance to turn and look. The judge was not convinced.
"I caution the prisoner, no disrespect will be tolerated. This court has been convened for the good of the people. Any attempt you make to subvert the inquiries or proceedings will be dealt with harshly. You may loosen the strap."
No sooner had the leather slipped below his chin, than Javert began an angry fusillade of words.
"I demand to heard! You have no right to restrain me here, or bring me before this supposed tribunal! You have no authority over me, whoever you are-- I am an official of the law-- your charges are without merit and I will not be subjected to this farce of---"
A single glance from the irate magistrate brought a guards cudgel hard across Javerts midsection. The prisoner doubled over, the breath and fury brutally knocked from him. The leather strap was twisted around his neck now, and he was yanked upright again by this, in the tight grip of a guard.
"I will remind the prisoner that he is here solely at the pleasure of the court, that his crimes are a matter of public record, and not open to argument. It is within the right and privilege of this court to use whatever means it pleases and at its disposal to maintain order and keep the peace. If you require a beating to keep a civilized and respectful tongue in your head, then by God, monsieur, you shall have it. I should hope this is now sufficiently clear."
Javert could barely breath, the strap, in the cruel hand of his guard, was an effective noose. The pain of the blow was disabling enough, and unable to defend himself by words or actions, the prisoner was now docile and subdued. The standing judge cleared his throat and commenced.
"Bearing witness against you, Inspector Javert, we have here assembled over 300 souls who were directly effected by your dogged addiction to that which you called your duty."
"Criminals." Javert croaked hoarsely. "Brought to justice."
The judge continued.
"You will please take note of the additional 947 who also fell victim to your blind cruelties."
Dazed by pain and anger, Javerts eyes once again swept the enormous hall. Behind each felon and convict stood other figures, none of whom struck the slightest cord in his memory. The judge looked to his superior briefly.
"I trust we can dispense with reading a list of the names, for the sake of brevity." The magistrate nodded, and the judge addressed Javert directly. "I have no doubt you do not know, nor otherwise recognize this additional number. They are here also to bear witness against you. These are the husbands and wives, parents, families and kin whose lives were destroyed by your immovable principles. You see before you those who perished for want of food and care when their only sources of support and income were taken away, through your dedicated efforts to the unfeeling letter of the law. These are the families that were torn apart, children sent to workhouses, spouses driven to despair, the suicides, the sickness--- It was your hand, Inspector Javert, that wrought these judgments-- and I assure you, sir, this is but a sampling of the horror brought about through your efforts."
"It was not my doing." Javert struggled to pronounce the words. "I am not the villain. I am an agent of the law-- it was the unlawful acts, and those guilty of committing them, responsible." He grimaced against his restraints as much against his disgust at having to defend himself. If this was a proper court of law, they would know and understand this--- he would never have been brought to answer for these things. These misfortunes were none of his concern-- and it further angered him that he had to plea a case at all. The voices rose again, murmurs and audible denouncements, demanding retribution. Again, the gavels call silenced them.
"Can it be you fail to understand?" the chief judge spoke again. "Your administration of what you call justice and service to the law-- it cannot exist in and of itself. The laws of man cannot take precedence over the laws of God."
Javert clenched his teeth and narrowed his eyes at the magistrate.
"There is no God. he hissed."
A general disruption followed-- gasps and shrieks, mumbled curses and angry shouts for revenge that took more than the gavels insistence to quell. How could such a vile Godless creature been given absolute power over their fate? Enough of them had long lost their own faith before crossing the Inspectors path-- but here in this court of presumed equality, even those pleas were heard. There had been no mercy shown by this man-- why should any be offered in return?
When at last the wave of angry voices was stilled, the magistrate turned cruel eyes to the accused.
"Inspector Javert, you have by your own words condemned yourself. This court has no choice but to administer the full penalty within its power to serve. Therefore, I hereby pronounce sentence--"
"With the courts kind permission--" again, that familiar voice from behind the dock. Someone rose, and Javert struggled to turn his head, to see the man's face. The guards yanked him back to attention, one gripping a handful of the prisoners hair to keep him from moving. The magistrate nodded to the speaker, and the man continued. "I should like to offer testimony on the prisoners defense."
The crowd grumbled briefly, but was soon brought to order. The speaker who would take on so hopeless a case stepped forward, now standing now beside the dock.
"You are rather well acquainted with the prisoner, as well as his crimes against you, and all the others." the chief judge spoke. "Still, it is within your right to act on his behalf."
Javert could not move his head, but from the corner of his eye could at last identify this mysterious benefactor.
It was the convict, Jean Valjean.