Luncheon at the Green Man was a stew of beef with potatoes and vegetables and a piece of coarse, crusty bread—hearty country fare that Lillet savored after spending so much of the morning out in the rain. She drank deeply from a mug of hot mulled cider, tasting the warmth of the spices and the crisp apple flavor on her tongue.
The morning's investigations had given her a lot to think about, and while she ate was as good a time as any. One thing she was fairly certain of was that she did not have a lot of time to waste on sitting and thinking, not with Gervase stirring up the locals' existing prejudices and Magistrate Cavit's open support. There might even be some personal feelings involved, given that the murdered young woman had been her nephew's sweetheart. Lillet didn't know how close the Cavits might be; that was another piece of local knowledge that she lacked. Not that it had anything to do with the primary matter; it was just that understanding the local milieu might well be the difference between recognizing something important and being distracted by a meaningless piece of village trivia.
"Excuse me, Molly; might I have another cup of cider?" she called to the girl.
"Yes, Your Excellency."
She came over right away. Things were as subdued in the common room as they were outside. A couple of old gaffers were at the table by the fire, smoke curling upwards from their clay pipes as they glowered at one another over a checkerboard as they'd likely done every day for the past forty years. The only other customer was the foreigner peddler, Maudite, who sat off in a corner, his pack by the side of his chair. He'd obviously been out during the morning, probably going door-to-door to try and find a taker for his wares and services, and since he hadn't taken the pack to his room was likely going to go back out again after he ate. Lillet thought that he must at least have had some success, or else he wouldn't be sleeping and dining at the village inn. Most of his sort, when fortune turned against them, would be forced to sleep rough and scavenge what they could by cunning or charity.
She brought her mind back around on point. There was no way to escape the fact that time was not on her side and she needed to use what she had wisely. Yet even so she still needed to put her thoughts in order.
Molly set the wooden cup down on the table; Lillet thanked her, and the girl gave a nervous glance before backing away. Her manner had been off ever since Lillet had returned to the inn, perhaps because of her father's ire. It made the Mage Consul sad, to be a figure of fear to this ordinary young woman.
Then again, she thought cynically, she didn't have to be a powerful magician to make folk nervous. Simply being a Court minister would do that all on its own. Government officials rarely meant good things for commoners, and even if she wasn't actively hostile it was best not to approach sleeping dragons; one never knew what would wake them up.
On the topic of being a magician, Lillet's thoughts came back around in a circle, she definitely needed to talk to Father Dubbel and learn more about the legend of the Venerable Jacob. Since accepting the favor, she'd noticed four separate strange things in and around Jacob's Creek, all of them having to do with magic: the way her Faery Road had broken up, the lack of any mana crystals in an area without known magicians, the way her ward had done vastly less than it should when Gervase had grabbed at her, and now the mana drain when she'd touched the Gallows Tree. Something was definitely off with the functioning of magic in this area, something that no one else had even noticed because there were, openly at least, no other magicians in town!
It was, of course, not certain that the unusual magic was connected directly or even indirectly to the atrocities Lillet had been sent to investigate, but it was the closest thing to a solid lead that she had. Moreover, magical anomalies fell directly within her purview as Mage Consul; if one looked at the matter strictly in terms of honor rather than morality her oath to Her Majesty would actually make it her primary duty.
That, she decided, would be taking it a bit far. Even so, finding out what it all meant, even if it didn't directly point to the killer of Jackson and Duvel, was important. She'd learned a lot this morning, and while it was true what her first tutor at the Magical Society had taught her, that she couldn't start to find answers until she knew what the questions were, she was acutely aware of the need to move on to that next step.
Abstracted, she dipped her bread in the remnants of her gravy, sopping it up as best she could, and took a bite. If only she had some idea of what the Beast was. A devil, a free-willed creature, or a familiar—each implied a different approach, a different set of goals and strategies. Was there any logic to the choice of victims, to the location of the attacks, or just random chance? Did the violence of the attacks mean something, or was it incidental to the killer's natural weaponry?
Lillet's somewhat circuitous musings were interrupted when the door was thrust open and the witch-hunter and his men stormed inside.
"Pyotr Maudite!" Gervase roared, leveling his finger at the traveler. "You are hereby arrested for the crime of trafficking in unhallowed arcana and for the unlawful practice of magic without a license. Your fell sorceries are at an end, warlock! Hathorne, take him. Corwin, get his pack. I'm sure it will contain further evidence of his witcheries."
Despite the command to arrest Maudite only coming at the end of Gervase's speech, it was clear that the witch-hunter had planned his entrance beforehand with his retainers, as they'd advanced on the peddler the moment they'd come through the door. Part of Lillet even admired the forethought—if they'd just stood around, a truly dangerous magician could have done many things while Gervase made his pronouncement.
The rest of her was staring in shocked horror.
"I've done nothing!" Maudite squealed in his thickly accented voice. "I'm no witch! I'm only an ordinary—"
He was cut off as Hathorne's gloved fist clouted him full in the face.
"Stow it, witch. You can do your talking to the magistrate, before they burn you."
"What is the meaning of this, Gervase?" Lillet challenged, rising from her seat.
"It's just as you see, Your Excellency. An unlicensed magician, practicing his accursed arts without the protections of the corrupt law you and your kind have thrust upon us. In time God's judgment will surely set that to rights, but for now this one's arrogance has set him beyond the shield of your devil's tricks."
Blood dripped from the traveler's nose, splattering on the floorboards.
"You can't be serious! You're arresting him just because he's a foreigner?"
"There is evidence of his witcheries!" Gervase snapped. "Testimony from the good citizens of this village as to his wickedness. I'm sure there will be more evidence to come, besides, once we examine the tools of his trade." His lip curled arrogantly. "He will not escape our good justice on a technicality."
"Is he the one? The one as been killing people?" one of the old man asked eagerly.
"I cannot say what sins lie upon his soul beyond the black magic he practices. He may well be the one who has visited this evil upon you, or he may only be a symptom of the devil's corruption that has seeped into this village, drawn here by the vileness already present." The witch-finder's eyes burned with fanaticism as he rose to his theme. "Fear not, for we shall wring the truth from this wretch and do what needs to be done to purge this town of unholy influence!"
"You won't be 'wringing' anything from anyone, Gervase," Lillet said at once. "I won't let you go one step further than the law allows, and torture most definitely goes beyond it!" It hadn't always. Through history, hundreds of confessions had been wrung from the lips of real and imagined magicians alike by the application of the ducking stool, the press, the brand, and the rack.
"You forget what he is accused of. One guilty of black magic can be interrogated to expose the full extent of his treachery!" The history of that law was more complex than it might have been, and actually dated back to the Archmage's attempt to conquer the kingdom by magical force. In essence, a potential black magic conspiracy was deemed to be possibly treasonous unless shown otherwise, and the means for the monarchy to combat seditious plots were therefore available to the minions of the law. It was an exception that the anti-magical faction among the government had joined with those who favored absolutism in royal power to carve out.
It wasn't the historical background Lillet found herself confronting now, however, but the present reality.
"I strongly doubt that your so-called 'evidence' will support any such thing."
"Bah! You quibble over points of law while brutal death holds the good people of this town in thrall?"
"And you use the killings of innocent people as an excuse to harass people that have nothing to do with it. The reason we have laws is because people like you don't have the judgment or the common decency to do the right thing without being forced to!"
Gervase snarled at her, baring his teeth.
"Your honeyed words of 'decency' and 'right' are but another example of how the Devil can quote scripture to try and deceive the righteous. But we will take this before the magistrate and you shall see if man's law thwarts God's as much as you hope that it will."
The witch-hunter spun on his heel, his cape swirling around his calves, and made a sharp, preemptory gesture. He stormed out of the common room, with his lackey frog-marching the hapless tinker along after him. Lillet could only stare, infuriated, in his wake.
~X X X~
It was no more than an hour and a half later, and the meetinghouse was jammed with the thronging crowds that had come to see a witch put on trial. At least half the population of Jacob's Creek seemed to be there, filling the high-ceilinged hall with a stifling heat despite the biting autumn chill outside. The roar of voices echoed from the rafters, some in confusion and more in bitter outrage, the emotions making it even harder for the bailiffs to keep order. These were no doubt the sheriff's men serving a second purpose; Lillet even recognized the young man from the jail holding back the press with his tipstaff. The long, pew-like benches were jammed tight and could hold no more, and the back and sides of the hall were packed full with the overflow almost up to the two tables where plaintiff and defendant's sides sat.
The rapidity of the hearing was surprising, but in hindsight she shouldn't have thought so. In the city, an arrested criminal would be jailed, and held until the next scheduled court time, but in a rural village court dates would be set according to the schedule of the magistrate. Generally these would be weekly or bi-weekly as suited the magistrate's schedule at their own work, but given Cavit's close association with the witch-finder and the nature of the charges in light of the deaths in town, it wasn't surprising that she would make the time to hear the case immediately.
The door at the back of the room swung open, and Magistrate Cavit emerged, the black robe of her profession making her look even more stern and austere than she had that morning. She climbed the steps to the judge's bench, picked up the gavel and rapped it several times sharply, the sound knifing through the hubbub.
"Order!" she barked. "I will have order!" The rumble of voices fell back to the level of a murmur, a soft hum in the background instead of a dominating chaos. "This is a court of law, and I will not have it turned into a mob scene! Maintain your composure and you will see justice done. Anyone who disrupts these proceedings will be ejected and fined."
She let her gaze sweep back and forth over the crowd. Apparently satisfied with the reduced level of commotion, she nodded once and continued the proceedings.
"This trial is being held to address a criminal claim brought against one Pyotr Maudite by Sterling Gervase. The charges are the practice of magic without a license, and trafficking in unhallowed arcana." She turned her gaze on the bearded peddler. "Defendant, how do you plead?"
"I...I..." he stammered.
"Your plea, Mr. Maudite."
"Mr. Maudite, this is a court of law established by the authority of the Crown. To refuse to enter a plea constitutes contempt of this court, and you can be placed in the press until you are willing to treat this matter with the seriousness it deserves."
"But...but..." His brow glistened with sweat, from heat or nerves or more likely both. "I do not understand. What means this 'unhallowed arcana'?"
"You will address me as Your Honor, Mr. Maudite. As to the charge, the crime of trafficking in unhallowed arcana is the name given to the practice of ritual sorcery whether by the casting of unholy spells or dealing in the illegal goods used in such a ritual."
Maudite gasped aloud.
"I didn't! I'm not a witch! I'm not!" He leapt to his feet, the chains of his manacled wrists clinking. "You have to believe me!"
Cavit hammered her gavel again.
"You will sit down and address this court in a respectful fashion!" One of the bailiffs dropped a heavy hand on Maudite's shoulder and forced him down into his seat. "The clerk will record that the defendant has entered a place of not guilty to all charges. Do I understand you correctly, Mr. Maudite?"
"Y-yes, Your Honor."
"Very well. Now, before we proceed further, I would like to address one immediate point." Her eyes flicked to where Lillet sat in the front row of the spectators. "You are accused of being an unlicensed magician, Mr. Maudite. Do you, in fact, possess a license to practice magic under the laws of our kingdom?" Her eyes found Lillet's again, as if saying, See how fair I can be?
"No, I am not a magician, Your Honor. I am but a poor peddler, nothing more!"
"So you claim, but we shall see. Master Gervase, present your case."
Gervase rose from his seat at the other table, where he had been waiting together with his retainers, then straightened himself. As Lillet had guessed, his voice went well with the setting, carrying boldly and forcefully to every corner of the room.
"As all know, this town has suffered cruelly under the Devil's hand this past week. The atmosphere of impiety and blasphemy draws such ills as surely as rotting meat brings flies. This man, this Pyotr Maudite as he names himself, is one of these ills. We will learn whether or not it was his hand that sent death walking among us, but what is not in doubt is that he is one of the devil's own breed, a sorcerer and a witch seeking to corrupt those who teeter on the brink of damnation!"
His finger stabbed out, plunging towards the defendant as if he was about to call God's thunderbolt down upon a sinning head. The circumstance was frightful enough; Maudite shrank away from the gesture and the witch-finder's forceful manner.
"I call upon Annette Verde to testify against this warlock!"
"Goodwife Verde, come forward to be heard," the magistrate called. There was shuffling and murmuring as a woman rose from the second pew and made her way to the fromt of the courtroom, where she took the seat next to the magistrate's bench that had been prepared for her. She was a plain woman in a brown dress and white cap like most of the town's women wore; Lillet put her age at around forty. She placed her hand on the Holy Scripture and gave her oath to speak only the truth.
"Now, Goodwife Verde," Gervase began, "have you met this man before?"
"Yes, sir, I have."
"Tell us about that."
"Well, it was yesterday afternoon. I was sweeping out the pantry when I heard a knock on my door, and there he was, this peddler. I don't mind telling you, I didn't like the look of him one bit, dark and dirty. Well, who knows what a body who's been out on the road might do! And what with all the recent goings-on...well!"
"But he did not offer you violence as you feared, did he?"
"Oh, no." Verde shook her head. "He was just a traveling peddler. He showed me this and that, offered to mend any pots I had, and that kind of thing." She curled her lip. "I can't say as how I trusted him or any of his goods, mind."
"These things, though, cheap trinkets and offers to repair pots, aren't all that he tried to sell you, are they?"
"No, sir. When I didn't buy anything, he said to me, 'Then, ma'am, what of more...subtle things? I have here a charm, as will invoke the blessings of St. Jeanne upon this house and turn aside any devils who seek to slip inside!' Well! I told him that I'd have naught to do with that frippery and shut the door in his face straightaway!" She sniffed audibly. "I'm a God-fearing woman, I am, and don't hold with that High Church flummery!"
A chuckle ran through the crowd, and even Lillet couldn't help but smile at the witch-finder's momentary discomfiture. Still, though Gervase flinched back a bit, comedy surely being nothing of what he'd expected to elicit in his testimony, he quickly rallied.
"As well you should, Goodwife, and it speaks well for your pious attitude. Nonetheless, what cannot be denied is that Maudite came to your door and offered to sell you a magical charm."
Lillet stood bolt upright at that.
"Are you now claiming that a prayer to the saints constitutes black magic, Master Gervase? Is this what your employer, Bishop Woodbridge, preaches to the people of Caithshire now?"
That sally drew more than laughter from the crowd: questioning murmurs, angry barks of agreement, fierce denials that any such thing was implied, even quite a few raised voices suggesting that what Lillet had articulated was exactly the case—the most extreme wing of the Low Church actually believed that the veneration of human saints was idolatrous and bordered on blasphemy.
"Indeed," Lillet added, raising her voice to put fuel on the fire, "don't you carry with you a relic of the Venerable Jacob, Master Gervase? Are we to believe that you, too, should be on trial for Mr. Maudite's alleged offenses?"
Though the voices of the crowd were enough to nearly drown her out, Gervase got the message well enough, flushing angrily above the white lace of his collar. Direct hit, Lillet thought.
Cavit hammered her gavel repeatedly.
"Order! Order, I tell you! I will have order!" After a minute or so, the commotion again died down to manageable levels, and the magistrate turned her gaze upon Lillet who had remained standing. "Mage Consul Blan, we must have no more of these outbursts. This is a court of law, not a social function at the Palace."
If she'd hoped to embarrass Lillet with the implication that the Mage Consul was a creature of urban high society, she failed. Lillet inclined her head gravely and responded at once.
"I apologize for causing a disruption, Your Honor. I simply could not restrain myself when I heard Master Gervase making claims that were so far at odds with the very definition of the law that we are trying to enforce here."
"In which case it is my place as magistrate to so rule on his claim. You are not the defendant's advocate and have no more right to interrupt these proceedings willy-nilly than any of these good people." She gestured at the crowd, again emphasizing to the citizens of Jacob's Creek how she wasn't going to kowtow to some outsider. It was cleverly played politics, Lillet had to admit, when a woman like Jessica Cavit could position herself as a defender of the common folk. "Still, as he does not have an advocate and given your position's unique relevance to the administration of this case"—that is, the Mage Consul's ability to report to the Crown that a certain magistrate was not properly enforcing the laws concerning magic and as a result said magistrate being removed from office or even charged with an offense—"I will permit you to speak in this case on such issues as your position concerns."
"Thank you, Your Honor."
"Now, Master Gervase, despite the impetuous nature of Her Excellency's objection and the uproar it created, it does seem to me that her point is well taken. Selling a relic of a saint may be an offense under the pardoning laws, but that is not among the charges being brought."
Nor is it anywhere near as serious, Lillet thought to herself. The sale of salvation for cash was punishable only by a fine and a few days in the pillory or at hard labor.
"I am aware of that, Your Honor," Gervase said with bad grace. "I merely began with this witness to establish the point that part of the defendant's regular business was the sale of amulets, charms, and potions, and moreover that he was more than willing to use the recent, horrid deaths as fodder to attract customers."
It was the last statement that started the murmuring again. As well it should, Lillet thought. These people had horror come upon them and the deaths of friends, loved ones. To have someone use that as a sales pitch was nothing short of contemptible and the crowd knew it.
But then again, wasn't that what Gervase himself was doing, selling his cruel breed of religion just as Maudite supposedly had done with his charms?
"The Court will treat the evidence for what it shows. Nonetheless, it will be necessary to show more than that in order to prove your allegations." Cavit turned to Maudite. "Have you any questions to ask of this witness, Mr. Maudite?"
He shook his head. He might not have even understood what the right of cross-examination meant, legally, or was overwhelmed still by his arrest, the rapid trial, the severity of the charges, and the atmosphere with the raging witch-finder, the stern magistrate, and the hostile crowd. Even Lillet, apparently on his side, was no doubt more a source of confusion than relief.
"And you, Your Excellency?"
"Just one, Your Honor. Goodwife Verde, did Mr. Maudite ever tell you that the charm he offered was a relic of St. Jeanne, or just that it would invoke her blessing?"
"Relic? You mean like a bit of bone or a scrap of her shroud? No, indeed! I'd have given him more than the sharp side of my tongue for that sort of blasphemy, I'll have you know!"
"Thank you, Goodwife." Lillet glanced at the magistrate, noting her pinched lips. Cavit had obviously followed the point; it was clear that there could be no conviction for pardoning from that testimony. It also told Lillet something else: that Magistrate Cavit was in fact well-schooled in the finer points of the law. Not all rural officials were; the magistrate in Lillet's family's home village while she was growing up, for example, had been more mayor than judge, but that did not seem to be the case here. Perhaps Cavit had read for the law before her appointment as magistrate.
Lillet wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not, this hint of the judge's education, but it was a fact in any event, and something to be aware of.
"Are there any more questions for this witness? No? Very well, then. Goodwife Verde, you are dismissed. Master Gervase, call your next witness."
Lillet knew that whatever Gervase intended, he would have to quickly act to recapture the momentum of his case. Even so, Lillet was still surprised by what came next.
"I call upon Molly Bogle to testify!"
~X X X~
A/N: The nature of being a pardoner, here made illegal, is treated as somewhat different than in the real world, but retains the essential nature of being a person who sells religious artifacts and goods.