A/N: Told you it wouldn't take long. After I had finished the second, I just had the urge to go on, so I pushed ahead. Besides, I figured this wouldn't have taken very long either. I had originally intended to post this after I got a bit farther ahead in The Twin Blades just because some of this references that story and will be a setting for later. But we're a long way off from that spot, so I figurd I'd just go ahead.
Anyway, here is the third and final chapter of this story. Enjoy.
Chapter 3: Judgment
For the third day, the scribe took his place at his humble desk, although today he felt a greater pride to sit at his place than in the grand booth where the queen's ministers of justice had sat. He had little thought as to why it seemed better. Perhaps it was because he was only to record the words that had been spoken these past days. He had awoken that day with the notion that it was better to record the words of deceit rather than order that they be given. The realization that the judges had done such a thing left a bitter taste in the scribe's mouth.
While Ludveck would surely receive his due reward, the scribe wondered if the road to that reward was one that the judges should have taken. He had eaten and entered the chamber no longer as a boy, but as a young man who had seen the true face of justice in a case such as this and was now wiser for it but not at all pleased. So, he thought that it held a higher honor to merely put the words in ink rather than speak them or order them to be spoken. He was now sure of it.
Aside from pride, the scribe also felt a great relief at the promise of a verdict. He had awaited this day since the first, and he was certain his fellows had as well. He saw the crowd of onlookers had swelled, no doubt from the word of those who had attended previously. Like a small amount of yeast in a baker's dough, the promise of judgment had worked its way through the citizenry. The seats were filled until they could abide no more, and the rest had stood alongside them until they seemed to fade into one another. As they jostled and pushed for room, the scribe thought they resembled the rolling of a rippling lake. He could not discern a single face from among them.
The scribe looked at the empty chair and awaited its filling, for it would surely be the last time the accused man would sit in it. For the time of foolish questions and witnesses, both false and true, would soon end. The scribe began to fidget in his chair. Would it begin soon? Would the judges at last bring an end to this pointless event? He hoped to know soon.
"Bring in the accused," the chief justice commanded. The scribe felt his back stiffen at the command, for it was now the beginning of the end for Ludveck; of that he was sure. The duke was brought forward, bound as he had always been, and roughly sat in the chair before the grand booth. The scribe hurriedly dipped his quill to begin his last recording.
"Ludveck of Felirae," the judge began, "you once again stand accused of high treason, sedition, inciting rebellion against your lawful queen, dishonorable conduct against your station, unlawful conduct against the laws of Crimea, and the abduction and attempted murder of a lady of the court. You will soon be judged for each of these. Have you any final words to give the court before judgment is to be made?"
"What words would I give to you?" the former-duke answered with a venomous sneer.
"Is that your say?" the judged replied back quickly.
"I did not say that."
"Then speak, and be quick about it."
The scribe saw the prisoner take a breath as if he were about to deliver a lengthy speech, such as one a king would give when he stood before his people. When he spoke, the haughtiness in his eyes traveled to his tongue.
"Do you call yourself justices, and do you call this a trial? You have had your verdict since the first day, and yet you failed to give it. No, instead of judging me, you decided to appeal to some foolish sense of self-righteousness. And so you tried me, if these proceedings could even be called a trial. Or was it the queen's own self-righteousness that caused you to do this? In any case, you were so eager to satisfy your own consciences by trying me that you decided to act against your own supposed morals. I could swear on the grave of my father and his father before him that half of those witnesses were liars, and yet you admitted them. But because it would only prolong this charade, you chose to ignore the truth, and you still ignore it. As I said yesterday, this entire matter is a travesty!"
"Will you now be silent?"
"I will not. You asked for my say, and now when you realize that I have spoken rightly, you try to quiet me. If you wish to try me, then do so. But do not sit there under the belief that you are more moral than I. You are no different from me, but you are too afraid to see it. So condemn me if you wish, but do not think that you keep justice in this land."
The scribe heard a low muttering among the judges, and he wondered what they might be saying to each other. Were they weighing the truth of Ludveck's word? Were they merely thinking of how to avenge their pride upon him? He could not say.
"We shall depart in order to discuss the verdict," the chief judge said at last. "Do not dismiss the court, for we shall return quickly." At those words, the booth emptied, and the scribe watched as the six ministers walked one-by-one out of the chamber. They seemed to take slow steps, though the scribe was not certain if they lingered or if they merely seemed to do so.
When the last judge had gone and the doors of the room were shut, the people began to talk among themselves. Most spoke with quiet voices, but some dared to speak out and shout to the prisoner.
"Now, you'll get a noose around your neck," one man said.
"I wonder if they'll give you a hood or if we'll get to watch it all," said another in poor humor.
"I hope they hang you twice," shouted a third. Others merely called him 'traitor.'
Time seemed to linger as the air filled with hateful words. The hours seemed to slow in passing as the scribe eagerly awaited the return of the judges. Had they been gone a minute? Had it been five or ten? Had it been an entire mark since they left? The scribe was not certain. The past two days seemed so quick. The scribe had, at first, found them to stretch on, but now, they seemed to have gone as the blink of an eye. This day, with the ending so near, it seemed as many days to the scribe.
His hands swept over each other. His feet shuffled in place, and each word he heard from the spectators seemed slower than the last. Would they not return? Would they not reach a judgment?
At last, the doors opened and each of the justices filed slowly back into the room. They seemed to slow in their steps again as they walked to their places. They seemed as snails to the scribe, and he was certain they were so in the eyes of the people. When they had all taken their seats, the chief justice called out.
"We have deliberated, and we have made our rulings. My fellows, for the crime of high treason, how does the court find the prisoner?"
"Guilty," said one judge.
"Guilty," another added.
"Guilty," declared the third.
"Guilty," the fourth announced.
"Guilty," the fifth said.
"For the crime of sedition, how does the court find the prisoner?"
Again, the voices of the other judges rang out to declare his guilt.
"For the crime of inciting rebellion against the lawful queen of the land, how does the court find the prisoner?"
Once again, each man gave a judgment of guilt against the former-duke. Three times more, the chief judge asked of each charge, and three times more the chorus of 'guilty' sounded through the chamber. As the scribe penned each glaring word, he felt a strange sense of relief for it was mingled with dissatisfaction. It was the verdict he had hoped for, and he took no pleasure in hearing its proclamation. As the last judge gave the last word, the chamber thundered with applause from the spectators.
"Order," the chief justice shouted over the din. "Order," he repeated, until the a silence that seemed deathly fell over the room. The scribe kept his eye upon the prisoner. Ludveck seemed unmoved by the sealing of his fate, and it seemed strange to the scribe that he should show no fear or dread as most men who heard such a ruling would. The scribe wondered if he had always expected this outcome or if he wished only to conduct himself as a man of noble birth even for a few moments longer.
"Ludveck of Felirae," the chief judge began, "you have been tried and found guilty of all crimes of which you stand accused. Though a few of these charges would put you in prison, the nature under which you have committed them and the more serious of offenses will not. According to the laws and traditions of the nation of Crimea, I hereby pronounce a sentence of death upon you."
At his word, the room again burst forth into loud cheers and applause, now louder than they had previously been. Where they could find room, the scribe noticed people dancing about in glee at the sentence given. The judge immediately called for order, but they seemed not to hear him. When he shouted again, they did not heed him. At last, with as much effort as he could muster, the chief justice shouted out, "Silence!" The word sounded loudly throughout the chamber, and the people became meek and somber as they heard it. The scribe leaned himself back in his seat, readying himself to record the time at which the duke's sentence would be carried out. He almost thought to himself that he could simply write that the execution would take place at dawn the following day.
"However," the judge said, sounding rather throaty, "owing to the mercy of Her Majesty, Queen Elincia Ridell Crimea, your sentence has been deferred for reasons known only to her and shall be carried out at her discretion. Therefore, you shall be committed to the jailer of Azrubel Prison until such time is seen fit." The scribe let his mouth fall open at the decision given. To him, the idea that the queen should hold him while war with Begnion tore through the country was hardly wise, and he imagined that the people who had gathered here were of the same mind. Though he understood little of such matters, the scribe wondered what reason the queen should have to spare the man who had sought to remove her.
And as Ludveck was taken back to his cell and the judges left, the scribe watched as the observers slowly departed to return to their homes. They seemed quiet as they walked with dissatisfied steps, for they had surely come only to return at daybreak. When the last of them had gone, the scribe let his eyes fall upon the empty chair in which the prisoner had sat. He knew not why he gazed upon it, although he still found himself reflecting on the rightness of the judgment given. Would this trial be recalled as one like so many others, where justice came swiftly and rightly or would it linger on as a mockery of justice Ludveck had declared? He could not tell, but he found that he could no longer sit alone.
Later in the day, the scribe slipped from his room and crept out the back gate of the fort. When he stood outside Alpea's walls, he broke into a run towards the front gate. Hiding himself, he heard the doors of the fort creak open as a black carriage appeared outside. The driver urged the horses slightly forward, until he bade them to halt. The winter air chilled the scribe, for he had hurried to watch this and had left behind his cloak. He rubbed his hands and breathed into his palms, hoping to restore their lost warmth. He kept his eyes upon the gate, until he felt his feet numbing within his shoes. He thought to leave, and yet, he felt oddly compelled to watch.
At last, two guards emerged from the gate with Ludveck bound between them. They stopped at the carriage, and released him only long enough to force him inside before they entered with him. When the door was shut, the driver flicked the reins and the carriage rolled away from Alpea, and soon it was out of sight.
The scribe ventured back inside. It was over now, and he would soon return to his own village. He would spend a day or two more at the fort before then, but he was glad to know that he would be going home. For while he lived within the shadows of Alpea, he was certain that he would not soon forget the days of late and the man who had been tried. Even now, he could imagine that black carriage bearing Ludveck to the gates of Azrubel, and the man himself sitting in one of its stone pits awaiting the day of his death. How the scribe wished he could blot the words he had written from his mind, for though he had looked with favor upon this day, he came to find that it offered nothing for him.
"It is over," he said to himself that night as he laid himself down in his bed, hoping the thoughts of home would overtake his sleep. "It is over."
A/N: First off, let me say I wasn't happy with the ending. I mean I always wanted it to end with the scribe watching Ludveck be carted off to prison. On that note, I plan on describing Azrubel Prison in greater detail in The Twin Blades. I had originally intended on writing a fourth chapter, nothing big, but I decided that it might be best to end it here. I might change my mind though. We'll see.
I want to thank all of you who've read and reviewed this story. It means a lot to me to know you've enjoyed this, even if it did just start out as a half-baked idea. A big thanks goes to HaveAHeart0301 who beta'ed this story and several others of mine as well.