Jessica Cavit's patrician features curled into a look of distaste, like she'd just taken a bite of one of the eggs on her breakfast plate and found something bitter inside. Lillet supposed that she could sympathize; having an uninvited guest walk in on one while one was eating was never pleasant.
She didn't, however, find that she much cared about the magistrate's comfort.
"Exactly what do you mean by this intrusion?"
"I thought it was obvious. I wanted to talk with you, and I wasn't prepared to wait."
Cavit's eyebrows rose sharply.
"Are you aware of what time it is?"
"Probably better than you are. You were up late last night when Sheriff Tisdale reported to you, but I actually had to go and do the things he was reporting about. Fighting magical duels with monsters and having to watch people die, even if I didn't like them, isn't easy. Then, while the sheriff was reporting to you, I had to compose this."
She handed Cavit a folded sheaf of papers, five pages folded together.
"What is this?"
"It's an advisory opinion, over my seal as Mage Consul, on the interpretation and enforcement of laws against the unlicensed practice of magic. I'll be filing a duplicate copy with the royal courts when I get back to the capital, but I wanted you to have one now, since it directly ties in with a case of yours."
"And for this you barge into my dining room while I am still taking breakfast? You may be a high official, but common courtesy still applies."
"Not when someone's life is at stake."
Cavit set her fork down sharply with a clink, then picked up her napkin and dabbed at her lips.
"This is about Pyotr Maudite, isn't it?"
"The Sheriff told me that executions are customarily carried out at nine in the morning here, and I wanted to make very sure that we had plenty of time to discuss the matter."
Technically, the magistrate had to be in attendance to preside over any capital punishment, but Lillet had made doubly sure by pointing out to Tisdale and his men that she would appreciate if the execution be stayed until she had a chance to discuss the matter with Magistrate Cavit. Those who had seen her deal with the manticore were especially happy to comply, for a number of different reasons.
Cavit threw the napkin onto the table with an angry gesture, pushed back her chair, and rose to her feet so that she could look down on Lillet from her greater height.
"I have had quite enough of your interference, Your Excellency. Despite the fact that you have rendered us a service by dispatching the monster that killed three—now five—people in Jacob's Creek, you do not have any authority over the enforcement of the law within my demesne. As you observed yourself with its title, this advisory opinion of yours is just that: advisory, without any power to enforce compliance. As for legal decisions, the only one I plan to debate with myself today is whether or not to press charges with the Crown against you for deliberately luring good Master Gervase to his death."
Her accusation did not faze Lillet. The truth was, she'd been expecting something along those lines from someone before she left Jacob's Creek, and had been faintly surprised that neither Ommegang nor Hathorne had done so there and then. Maybe the evidence of their eyes and ears had outweighed their bigotry. In any case, she didn't waste any time being overawed by Cavit's threats.
They did make a good segue, though.
"I'm glad that you brought up Gervase, since one of the things that I wanted to talk with you about was his criminal activities."
Cavit, on the other hand, seemed very much taken aback by Lillet's statement.
"Criminal activities? Not satisfied with killing a zealous foe of your wicked kind, you would now go so far as to try and sully his reputation?"
"I really don't have to do much of anything. He did it all on his own."
She gestured at a chair.
"You should sit down, Magistrate. We need to properly talk about this."
Lillet's tone wasn't one that she used very often. It was hard and flat and brooked no refusal. It was the voice she turned on recalcitrant devils who resisted her will when summoned, when informing them of precisely who was the master.
Given her opinion of the magistrate, she thought that was rather appropriate.
It worked on Cavit just like it did on devils. The magistrate sat down. Lillet pulled out a chair and sat down opposite her.
"Now, first off, since you don't act like you're going to read my advisory opinion any time soon, I'll summarize it. It is my opinion as Mage Consul that it is a necessary component of the crime of practicing magic without a license that one have the intent to practice magic. If a roofer accidentally kicks a slate off a roof and it hits someone and kills them, it's not murder. It might be manslaughter, or just a tragic accident, but it's not murder because you have to have the intent to kill, and it should be the same with magic. The point of the law is to control magicians because magic can be dangerous and it's good for everyone if its practice is properly regulated and only the amount is used which society approves of—which around here is none, but that's a different debate."
The magistrate's lip curled.
"As I expected. You want me to let Maudite go because he didn't know that he was teaching a magical ritual; he only thought he was fleecing Mary and Jack of some money through superstition."
"You're a better lawyer than I am, so I'm not surprised that you understood at once."
"And you should understand that the point of our enforcement of the law is to stamp out magic in all its forms to the fullest extent we can. Your ilk may have sunk your corruption deep in the capital, but in Caithshire we still follow the word of God! Intent does not matter, merely the fact that he did try to spread genuine magic. All your...advice," she said, sneering as she waved the paper Lillet had given her, "will not change that."
"Then you reject my interpretation outright?"
Cavit smacked the papers down on the table.
"I thought that you might."
Lillet folded her hands together, resting them on the table.
"You've been talking a lot about what I don't have the authority to do, and it's true that if you are dead-set on executing Mr. Maudite then I have no legal authority to stop you." She sidestepped the question of what practical authority a small army of, say, summoned dragons might give her. "I do, however, have the power to present this case to Her Majesty concerning local non-compliance with the royal edicts which restrict criminal punishment of magicians. You could be removed from your office."
"Merely because I didn't change my ruling to comply with a legal opinion that you only wrote up after the fact? That is an empty threat."
"By itself, probably. I would need either to win a great deal of sympathy or call in a very large number of political favors to have any chance of succeeding if that were all that I could argue. But a key part of my complaint would be the inconsistency in your enforcement of the laws. Which brings me back around to Sterling Gervase, witch-hunter and, under your principles, unlicensed practitioner of magic."
"What absurdity is this?"
"If Sheriff Tisdale gave you anything like an accurate report of what happened last night, then you know that Gervase has been walking around Jacob's Creek with a very real magical artifact hanging around his neck for the past few weeks."
"That's—" Cavit began, but Lillet cut her off.
"A magical artifact that he didn't just carry, but actually used. Its presence here was directly responsible for releasing the manticore that the Venerable Jacob had safely sealed away. He used it against me directly when he assaulted me in the inn on my first night in town. It was a petty incident that I didn't feel worth pressing charges over, but he did lay hands on me, a Court minister, against my will—and his enchanted cross helped protect him against the wards I carry that defend me against attack. He used it actively last night, as well, when he touched it to the Rune chaining the manticore with the intention of destroying that Rune, showing that he knew quite well at least some of its purpose and powers.
"I am absolutely certain that Gervase was not a magician, and so could not have had a license to practice magic. Yet he was doing exactly so within the definition he himself gave of the law during the trial—I'm sure you recall the potion incident? Despite that, he was not questioned, not arrested, not sentenced to burn at the stake. No, he was given legal enforcement powers and allowed to prowl the village, hunting for people committing his own crime and generally harassing the citizens."
"He believed that it was a holy relic of the Venerable Jacob Blackstone, blessed with God's power!"
"You just got through telling me that intent doesn't matter. At least Pyotr Maudite's ignorance didn't hurt anybody. Gervase's ignorance directly led to the death of three of your citizens. I'm sure that the Archbishop and the Court will be fascinated to learn that the profoundly anti-magical Bishop Woodbridge is hoarding magical treasures, then giving them to his agents to go out in the countryside and use them with only a causal understanding of what they are."
Cavit's face twisted into an angry mask; she actually curled her hands into fists where they sat on the table.
"You would dare go so far? You would accuse men of God of witchcraft?"
Lillet shook her head.
"No," she said, pointing to her advisory opinion, "on the contrary, I'm claiming that they're innocent. You're claiming that Gervase was a hypocritical felon who by the standards of your interpretation of the law should have been burnt at the stake alongside Maudite."
Anger vanished and Cavit went ash-pale as she felt the jaws close firmly upon her.
"I might also raise the point that despite your willingness to freely enforce the laws against magic, that not a single person here in town, including Gervase himself, the so-called 'expert' witch-finder, could recognize Blackstone's cross for what it was despite him waving it around constantly. Hypocrisy and incompetence make the kind of combination that beings attention, don't you think?"
Now came the moment of truth, Lillet thought. Was she going to have to fall back on Plan A and rescue Maudite by force? That was certainly possible, but it would take care to keep from seriously hurting anyone, and the political fallout would be a mess. She would not let Gervase get one last laugh up from Hell at her by claiming another victim in his bloody crusade.
If it had been Gervase across the table from her, she was certain that the zealot wouldn't budge an inch, consequences be damned. Was Cavit made of the same stuff?
Violet eyes flicked meaningfully towards the sheaf of papers. Cavit followed Lillet's gaze, reached out with a faintly trembling hand, and began to make a show of reading. Or maybe she genuinely was reading it, seeking some kind of legal loophole? For nearly five minutes she examined the text, before she raised her eyes to meet Lillet's.
"After further consideration, I believe that Your Excellency's opinion to be well-taken. A legal position which would present the pious works of the Bishop and his representatives as criminal acts cannot stand as justice and thus...I must be convinced that your interpretation must be the correct one. Therefore, in light of that I will reverse my decision and free the wretch Maudite at once."
"I'm glad to see that our personal and philosophical divisions won't interfere with the just administration of the law in Jacob's Creek."
"I am pleased to hear you say so, Your Excellency," Cavit replied stiffly, accepting the unspoken promise, now I won't go back to the capital and tattle on you.
"I've taken up enough of your morning, I think," Lillet said, rising. "I need to get started back to the capital soon in any event; I don't mind traveling if it's necessary, but I miss my family."
"Then I wish you a safe and speedy journey." Especially the "speedy" part, no doubt.
And in truth, Lillet did want to get home soon. She fully intended to pack, check out of the Green Man, and stay in town no longer than it took to verify that Maudite was indeed freed. Then she could at last be on her way back home to Amoretta, to Cressidor, to the home and the life that she'd been able to make for herself because the village where she'd grown up, though no more cosmopolitan than Jacob's Creek, was a place where a girl with a talent for magic could be encouraged to practice and develop that talent, not be feared and persecuted for it.
She wondered how long it would take Jessica Cavit to realize what she'd done, that when Lillet presented her advisory opinion to the Court it would now carry with it a legal precedent, that an actual tribunal had followed it. It was only a magistrate's court in a small village, of course, but still, a small pebble kicked down a rocky slope could become an avalanche.
Lillet thought that Jacob Blackstone would have liked that.
~X X X~
A/N: The pedantic attorney in me points out that Lillet's wrong; you can do murder without the intent to kill, in the case of so-called "felony murder" (any death that occurs in the commission of a felony is murder attributable to the felon) and in cases where the act of the killer is of such a grossly reckless disregard of human life that it's treated as murder instead of manslaughter. She's a magician, not a criminal lawyer, after all.