Chapter 25: Trial
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
The next morning, I got out of the shower to the sound and smells of someone cooking breakfast in my kitchen. Apparently even the Watch couldn’t keep every Tom, Dick, and Harry from coming in and making my breakfast so they could have a talk with me. The only good part about this was that if it was Alex Bancroft, I might get a few more answers out of him.
It wasn’t. Instead, it was Susan Knowles. My irritation evaporated almost immediately. It was darn nice of her to come make my breakfast. And I even told her so as I sat down to eat.
“Well, I’d heard you’d been laid up for a while and that Tanya had been withdrawn from your household, so I thought I’d come and help out,” Susan replied as she sat down. “And how goes the murder investigation? Any clues?”
It was a bitter note that immediately poisoned my mood. Far from being happy Susan was here, I now wanted to get rid of her. She seemed to realize this, because she immediately adopted a different tack. “And I’m so sorry to hear about your relatives that were hurt over in West Village. I hear that the doctors in Boston who are treating your brother are very, very good. Once this nonsense of them trying you is over, I hope they find the people who did this and punish them properly.”
That made me think of Sonia, all bruised and bandaged up, talking with Stacia, and cheered me up immensely. If the people who caused this escaped, it would not be due to any laxity on Sonia’s part, of that I was sure. And it was good to know Susan was on our side, too.
Susan saw my smile and returned it in full. She went on to say, “The thing that worries me is that silly trial. I hear that some of those West Village people plan to pack the Great Assembly Hall tonight and cause a riot. If only the High Council would be reasonable and put it off a day or two!”
Interesting idea. I offered another possibility. “I suppose if I didn’t attend they couldn’t hold the trial.”
That got Susan’s interest. “Say if you stayed in town tonight. Maybe even several nights until the whole business blows over.”
“Yeah.” And then my good mood fell apart again. I was turning into a coward. I didn’t want to feel that way about myself. And while I’m sure Susan meant well, she was encouraging me to be a coward. I began to think of Susan as an interfering busybody, and then upbraided myself. This was about me, not Susan. So I framed my reply accordingly. “On second thought, I think it’s a bad idea not to go. Shirking my duty and all, you know.”
Susan realized she had offended me. “I guess it was a silly idea after all. Just forget I mentioned it.”
Sonia came over in a wheelchair early in the afternoon, along with Stacia and Regina, to explain her strategy at this evening’s trial. For someone as banged up as she was, Sonia was looking remarkably cheerful. Not so Regina, who looked as if her patience with her patient had been sorely tried. Stacia was back in her dream-like state, and hardly said a word for most of the meeting.
Sonia’s strategy seemed reasonable to me, except for one thing: she didn’t even mention my sister Elsie. Since she was certainly part of the “evidence” that I was a demonolater and had been trying to corrupt Tanya, I figured I had to raise the issue.
Sonia heard me out, and then replied, “As far as the Children are concerned, your sister Elsie is dead, and the creature who appears to be her is a demon inhabiting her body. The testimony of demons is valueless unless they can be compelled to speak the truth, and for that you need an Instrument of the Divine. Since the High Council hasn’t recognized one, that option is out. So both sides are going to have to make their cases without her. That hurts the Prosecutor’s case more than it does ours, so I am satisfied with that arrangement.”
“My sister is no demon,” I told Sonia.
Sonia gave me an impatient look. “I know you believe that, Emily. And I have to say that after questioning her that she is either an inept or a very clever demon, but she is a demon. But since it is irrelevant to this trial, let us set the matter aside. We would be fools to quarrel at a time like this.”
I wasn’t happy, but I saw Sonia’s point, and let the matter go. The rest of the discussion went without a hitch until Sonia mentioned that she would need Stacia and Regina to accompany her on the floor of the Great Assembly Hall. Regina rolled her eyes at me but gave her assent. I expected Stacia to agree as a matter of course, but I was to be surprised. She emerged out of her dreaming to tell Sonia that she had something else she had to do and that Sonia would have to find a substitute. The two sisters stared at each other a bit, and then Sonia nodded agreement. Stacia left not long after.
I thought the whole incident odd and said so to Sonia just as our meeting was coming to an end. I could see by her reaction that Regina thought Stacia’s behavior odd, too. Unusually for Sonia, she actually lowered her eyes and thought a bit before she answered me. Giving me a curious smile, she said, “If Stacia tells me she has something else to do than help me, then it’s something more important that will help us, Emily. I trust my sister. That does not mean I understand her.”
Not long after Sonia left, Bonnie unexpectedly called. I told her what I could about my trial. She had asked Ethan to go talk to his sister to find out more about what was going on. According to Susan Knowles, there were all sorts of rumors circulating about things I’d done as a demon worshiper since I’d returned, some of which were quite lurid. I made a mental note to go talk with Susan sometime soon to find out what she could tell me about these rumors; pity I hadn’t seen her since that morning she came by. Even though I was preoccupied with my own affairs, Bonnie’s mention of Ethan reminded me to ask her about Ethan’s connection to Hannah Wyatt. It was news to Bonnie; she promised to ask Ethan.
The main chamber of the Great Assembly Hall could seat hundreds, and it seemed packed that evening as I walked in. Packed and ugly. By prior arrangement with Sonia, I went in first alone, accompanied by two tired-looking members of the Center Village Watch who were providing security for the meeting. I’d hardly gotten in, when boos and catcalls came from all sides. They didn’t let up at all as I marched down the main aisle to the trial space at the front of the hall.
There was no raised platform at the front of the hall. That was deliberate: the High Council was of the Children, and while they wielded authority among the Children, they were not set above them. Instead, there was a line of tables. The High Council sat behind them, facing the audience. There was a large open space between the Council and the audience. Normally it was empty. Tonight there was a single table placed in the middle, with chairs placed to face the High Council. That was for me and my Defender. The rest of the hall was filled with folding chairs for the audience.
I took up my position standing by the table set for me, but facing the audience. There was no way I was going to turn my back on that unruly crowd until I had to. Almost immediately the clamor became louder, with hissing joining the other sounds of hostility.
And then they quickly died out. A breathless silence filled the hall as they saw Sonia Hoopes being wheeled by Regina and a young girl down the center aisle. I guess they thought they had struck her down and destroyed her, but here she was, and they were clearly surprised. A low murmur swept the room that got louder as Sonia rolled down the aisle. And when Sonia reached the end where the aisle opened up to clear floor space, the crowd got another surprise. With the help of Regina and another woman whom I didn’t know, Sonia got up on crutches and stood before everyone. She glared at them, and the sight of her face, bandaged and bruised as it was, shocked them into silence again.
Save for one noise. With all the deliberate contempt she could muster, Sonia opened her mouth and hissed at the crowd. Not one of them dared hiss back. With that concluded, Sonia used the crutches to walk over to our table, and allowed herself to be seated back in her wheelchair. I sat down beside her.
By protocol, the accused and her Defender arrive first, then the High Council. They must have been waiting nearby, because they almost immediately filed in. Since they were sitting as a tribunal, they came dressed as judges. In the old days, the judges had worn robes with hoods which hid their faces, for justice was supposed to be impersonal. Now they still wore robes, but no hoods; instead, they each wore a heavy chain around their necks, from which was suspended their jewel of office. With the ten of them standing there (Nash’s successor had not been chosen yet), it was an imposing sight.
They looked uncomfortable. Certainly they must have heard the crowd, and I expect some of them had peeked in and seen Sonia’s dramatic arrival. I think it was much more than they had bargained for. Angus looked ready to use the gavel he was carrying. Even Hilda Strong looked nervous as she favored us with a tight smile.
As chair, Angus McPherson stood at the far right (from the Council’s perspective, according to custom). He announced, “The High Council is convened. Be seated.” The Council sat. Once seated, Angus said, “The High Council sits as a tribunal tonight. Is the Prosecutor here?”
At the other end (again, according to custom), a member rose. He was a man in late middle age, balding, with a square face, florid complexion, and stocky build. “I am Harold Lewis, and I serve as Prosecutor. I charge Emily Fisher with corrupting a minor among us, and with being a demonolater.” For good measure, he gave me a hostile stare before sitting down again.
Angus ignored the hisses and went to the next step. “Is the accused here?”
I was already standing. “Yes, I am. I am Emily Fisher. I reject the charges made against me.” And then I resumed my seat.
At this point, Angus was supposed to say, “Is your Defender here?” Instead, he said, “We understand that Sonia Hoopes is your Defender and that she has suffered serious injuries. We will not require her to stand to give witness to her role.”
However, Sonia was already being helped to rise on her crutches. She stood and answered Angus. “I am Sonia Hoopes. I serve as Emily Fisher’s Defender, to refute these charges against her as the falsehoods they are. And as I am already standing, I beg the High Council not to require me to sit.”
There was a brief murmur of laughter around the room. Angus rapped his gavel, waited for people to quiet down again, and replied, “I think I speak for the entire High Council in being pleased by your remarkable recovery, Sonia. We will not make the mistake of underestimating your dedication again.”
Sonia did not even offer Angus the ghost of a smile. Instead, in a flat voice, she said, “Quite a few people made that mistake, Angus.”
It took the audience a few moments to recognize the threat behind those words, but once they did the catcalls and hisses started up. Angus needed a minute or two to get the people to quiet down.
It might have taken Angus McPherson even longer to get the audience to quiet down, but something unexpected happened that caught everyone’s attention. A figure emerged out of the door from which the High Council had entered the hall, and proceeded to walk directly into the space between the Council and my table.
It was Hannah Wyatt. She was dressed in an extraordinary fashion, in a gray gown cut in the fashion Instruments had once worn a century or two ago, or so I’ve been told. By walking into the middle of things, she had so thoroughly violated protocol that no one quite knew what to do next.
No one but Hannah. Without so much as an introduction, she turned to Angus and in a firm voice asked, “Angus McPherson, what is the nature of these proceedings against Emily Fisher? Why is she summoned before the High Council to be judged? How is the High Council qualified to judge her?”
There was a buzz around the room, people surprised at what Hannah had said, wondering what Angus would say in reply. And apparently that consummate politician was wondering, too, for he was visibly struggling to get a word out. He finally decided to try to defuse the situation. “Hannah, this is improper. You look unwell. Go sit down and I’ll speak to you later.”
Hannah did look rather pale. But she wasn’t going to take the hint. “I have challenged the competency of the High Council to try this woman. Explain yourselves, or be dismissed.”
Angus was taken aback. The High Council dismissed by Hannah, not the other way around? He stood there for several seconds, once again searching for a suitable reply. Meanwhile Sonia, once again seated, leaned over and whispered to me, “This is crazy. Do you have any idea what she thinks she’s doing?”
Before I had a chance to answer, Angus spoke. He had apparently decided he had to provide some justification, so he said, “Emily Fisher is one of the Fallen . . .”
Hannah interrupted him. “Is she? Where is her testimony of belief? Where is a witness who can tell us when and how she renounced the faith?”
Angus looked embarrassed. “The High Council felt that since she had left with her parents . . .”
Hannah wasn’t going to let him finish that, either. “And the witnesses to their renunciation? Where are they?”
Normally, had my parents been excommunicated, there would have been such witnesses, and their statements would have been taken down and entered into the records. But my parents had been expelled, and there were no witnesses and no records of their loss of faith (which hadn’t yet happened when they were expelled). I had to wonder how Angus was going to sidestep this point. To his credit, he didn’t. Instead, he simply replied, “You are correct, Hannah Wyatt. None of these things exist. There is none of the customary evidence to place Emily Fisher among the Fallen.”
You could hear people in the hall stirring, confused by this turn of events. And then Hannah drove the point home, but in an unexpected fashion. “Then she is not one of the Fallen, for she was never one of us. Nor is she of the World, for she was born among us. She is among us now to do the work of the Divine, and that shall not be questioned.”
Councilor Harold Lewis had been fuming all the time, getting angrier and angrier. The nerve of Hannah, interrupting his moment of glory! Finally his anger boiled over. He stood up, turned to Hannah, and in a scorn-filled voice told her, “You are out of order. The High Council has not recognized you as an Instrument. Leave now, or we’ll try you on charges of disobedience.”
Hannah seemed to notice him only as he finished speaking. She walked over to stand in front of him. And in that same firm voice, she proclaimed, “I speak as an Instrument of the Divine, say what you will. And I will not be silenced or dismissed.”
Lewis’s voice rose to a yell. “You are nothing but a miserable little creature with delusions, decked out in a costume you probably stole from somewhere. You’re a cursed brat from a cursed family.” He paused, whether for dramatic effect or because of the enormity of what he was about to say. “Your mother was a whore, and no doubt you’re one, too.”
Everyone in the hall was shocked into silence. Harold Lewis had done the unthinkable, raking up an old scandal to accuse Hannah of an unspeakable sin, and saying it publicly. That a High Council member had said it gave it instant credence. The mob in West Village had gone after my kin because they were “Priests.” Now this mob was reminded that Hannah was one, too, and a whore as well, which was unimaginably worse. The mood in the room shifted hard against her, and a hiss began rising against her.
Hannah felt it, too. She turned, looking around, as if she sensed that she now stood condemned on the strength of a single word. In a weak voice, she asked, “Is there no one here to defend me?”
Moment after moment went by. The hisses got louder and louder. And Hannah looked so pitiful, I couldn’t let this go on. Forgetting my own position here, I raised my hand. “I’ll defend you, Hannah.”
Hannah turned to me and smiled, a big smile, a genuine smile. “Then you are my sister, Emily Fisher, so long as we both live.”
Our words had brought a temporary lull to the hissing. Councilor Lewis could feel his moment slipping away again, and resorted to scorn once more. “And what is Emily Fisher? Fallen, an outsider, another whore like all outsider women, a whore to defend a whore. A fitting sister.”
The hisses rose louder and louder. Angus banged on his gavel and finally threatened to clear the hall before the hall grew quiet.
Meanwhile Hannah had just stood there, looking down at the floor. I thought that Lewis’s comments and the mob had again dismayed her. But in the silence she spoke, once again firm and certain of her purpose. “Oh, you are a faithless and stubborn people, my Children. You need signs to nourish your faith. Well, I will give you signs.” She looked up, turned, faced Harold Lewis and pointed at him. In an accusing voice, she said, “Harold Lewis, you have defied the Divine. You are not worthy to sit on the High Council. I deprive you of your office.”
At that very moment, without warning, the chain of office around Lewis’s neck broke. The chain and its jewel went clattering to the floor.
Everyone was stunned, except possibly Hannah. For a moment, the only sound that could be heard was the echo of the heavy chain of office hitting the wooden floor. Lewis stared down at his chest, and then at Hannah, as if he could not believe what had happened.
Before he could recover, Hannah spoke again. “Harold Lewis, you have denied the Divine. You are not worthy to be numbered among the Children. I deprive you of your Blessing.”
There was no event accompanying that pronouncement, which gave Lewis time to recover. He sputtered out, “It must be a trick. That’s what it was, a trick. You don’t fool me, whore.”
So powerful was the word “whore” as a term of abuse among the Children that I believe Lewis thought he could still use it against Hannah, that by itself it would strike her down. It was a powerful card to play, but Hannah had already trumped it. The broken chain on the floor was evidence to that. Instead, his words turned against him. He was attacking the Divine in Hannah’s person, and the enormity of that ran through the crowd. I suspect even he felt it, for it is hard to explain what happened next otherwise.
Hannah was undaunted. Still pointing at him, she charged him one more time. “Harold Lewis, you have cursed the Divine. So now the Divine curses you. For all you appear to be a man, you are but an unreasoning brute. Nay, you are a viper! So here is my curse: that like a viper, you will crawl upon your belly until you have left the Sacred Lands, and that you shall never return. So it shall be done!”
An odd look had come upon Harold Lewis’s face as Hannah spoke, a slackening of his features, as if he were being drained of emotion and thought. And when Hannah finished, Harold Lewis fell. He tumbled forward, slamming into the table and then falling down to the floor, where he lay still for a moment. There was a gasp from the people near him, who could see he had gashed his forehead as he fell.
And then Harold Lewis rolled onto his abdomen, onto his belly, like the viper Hannah had called him, and began crawling. It was a pathetic sight. He couldn’t rise on his hands and knees, but just had to propel himself along the floor by pulling with his hands and pushing with his feet. His face was vacant of any expression, save that he stared at the main door all the way at the back of the hall toward which he was crawling. And the odor and wet streak following him showed that he had indeed become an unreasoning beast, and lost control of his bowels and bladder.
People gasped, but no one moved. No doubt they were amazed. Yet it was not just amazement that held them. It was fear. For an Instrument of the Divine had appeared among them, and struck down a member of the High Council. If Hannah Wyatt could do that, what might she do to anyone else who opposed her?
End of chapter twenty-five