DR FRANK JACKSON, 59A, PRINCES ROAD, BRIGHTON, EAST SUSSEX BN2 3RH
Home from the Wars
On her return from the land of the dragons, Morag makes the decision to marry her faery lover, Demos. But her happiness is marred by a forthcoming murder trial, in which she has to demonstrate both the innocence of the charged man, and the guilt of an old enemy. With the threat of summary execution, for the guilty party, she has harsh decisions to make, both for the sake of the faery law, and for herself.
Persephone looked up from her crowded desk as Morag entered her office. She jumped to her feet in delight, scattering a few papers as she did so. She came round the desk, still wearing the neat blue dress that she normally wore to her work. Her dark hair was gathered in a long plait down her back. Her pretty olive-coloured face lit up with pleasure at seeing Morag again.
‘Have you been busy, Persephone?’ she asked, looking at the desk, covered in papers and fingerprint sheets.
‘Oh, Morag, I have been so busy! Marshal after marshal have come in, while you have been away, all asking me to match fingerprints from the scene of the crimes! And, nine times out of ten, they did match, and the marshals were able to arrest them! So many of them confessed, when confronted with the evidence, that the faery courts can hardly find time to sentence them! Crime in the port of Druard has dropped dramatically! Oh, Morag, your finger printing has been such a success!’
Persephone stopped for breath. Morag laughed quietly at her eagerness. ‘But there is a case which is very difficult, which your friend, Amelia, has been dealing with. She should be here any moment’.
Just then, there was a knock at the door. ‘Please come in’. Persephone called loudly. The door opened, and there stood Amelia, an attractive young faery, with long blonde hair cascading over her shoulders. Like Morag, she wore a white tunic, above her breeches, with the small blue badge of the faery marshals pinned to her chest. ‘Welcome back, Morag!’ she exclaimed. ‘I see our allies have not devoured you!’
‘No, they did not! In fact, it was a very pleasurable visit. But what brings you here, Amelia?’
‘I am disturbed by some of my findings on a case that I am engaged in. I came here to ask your assistant to check certain things that I found’.
‘Please tell me’. Morag smiled. She liked Amelia, who was one of her fellow marshals, who had embraced the idea of finger-printing assiduously. She was also a very keen observer of crime scenes, who carefully examined the detail of each case.
‘It is an altogether difficult case’. Amelia said, quietly ‘It involves murder and a faery suspect. You remember, do you not, Morag, that this was a case, which I was charged with investigating? Of a faery father, who was murdered with a knife, by his son?’
‘I remember’. Morag said, quietly, not knowing where this story might take her.
‘Nonetheless, I will give you the full details. Last Saturday night, an old man, Periphas, was knifed to death in his study. We called a physician to ascertain that the deceased was, in fact dead, and he also established the time of death at between ten and twelve midnight on the night in question’.
‘Who found the body?’ Morag asked.
‘The old woman who acts as the housekeeper, who came in to clean the study next morning’.
‘Hold on! I thought faerys didn’t keep servants!’
‘Indeed, they do not. But this old woman would have been destitute if a household job had not been found for her’.
‘So – an act of kindness? Go on, Amelia’.
‘The death was caused by a single thrust of a thin-bladed knife in the heart from an attacker standing directly in front of the victim. From the direction of the thrust, both were facing each other, but the attacker was slightly taller, and right-handed. It was a quick death, Morag, and a very sure thrust of the blade’.
‘So it means that the attacker was used to such skills of striking quickly. He’s done it before’. Morag said thoughtfully. ‘Did you recover the murder weapon?’
‘Yes, we found a bloodied knife down the street, under some bags of rubbish. The killer had obviously thrown it away. But the physician tested the dried blood on the blade with that of the victim, and declared it was the same’.
‘Who was the physician?’ Morag interrupted rather abruptly. She was concerned that everything should have been done properly. It was their first murder investigation, involving a faery victim, and not a single thing could be overlooked.
Amelia, however, took no offence. She had obviously realised that their handling of this case was likely to come under close scrutiny: all procedures had to be strictly followed.
‘ His name was Thursday, a strange name. But he was appointed as such by the lady Ragimund, and certainly seems very skilled at his vocation. Before you ask, Morag, there was no evidence of footprints or anything else. The ground was dry, and told us nothing’. Thursday, Morag thought. A familiar name, especially to Annie. A mysterious man, who was not what he seemed, and had played a peculiar role in the truce negociations with the Barbarossi. But Ragimund had appointed him, and therefore he could be trusted, or so she hoped.
‘Oh, sorry, I was just thinking about something. Who is the chief suspect, Amelia?’
‘A man called Farix. He is the son of the deceased. And I was told that he quarrelled violently with his father earlier that evening’.
‘Oh, he did, did he? What about?’
Amelia sighed. ‘It was apparently about his inheritance. Farix wanted to claim his inheritance from his father. You see, Morag, his father, Periphas, was a rich man, who had made a fortune through trading with merchants across the seas. He had made a will, which I saw, leaving his fortune to be divided equally between his son, Farix, and another, his nephew. The son wished to claim his inheritance immediately, and the father refused. So they quarrelled violently, and not long after, the father was found dead, murdered’.
‘So his son, Farix, had a clear motive for killing his father. It seems fairly clear to me. Did the son have an alibi? Did he have an opportunity to murder his father?’
‘No, he does not have an alibi. When I questioned him, he claimed to have simply retired to his room for the night and stayed there. But I only have his word for that. Because he lives in the same house as his father, he had ample opportunity to commit the murder’.
‘Well, it seems like a clear-cut case to me! Do you have him in custody?’
‘Yes, I do. But, Morag, I cannot charge him with murder! The evidence is not conclusive! I finger printed him and tried to match them up with those I found on the knife’.
‘What do you mean? What about the fingerprints on the knife? Surely they must match!’
‘They are very similar, but no. They do not altogether match. See for yourself’.
She dipped her hand into her satchel, hanging from her shoulder, and pulled out an envelope containing the transparent prints, she had taken from the knife. Persephone pulled down a folder from the shelves behind her. They walked over together towards the large microscope, that stood on a small table in the window on the right, directly opposite Persephone’s desk.
Morag enjoyed using the large microscope. She found pleasure in adjusting it, angling the small mirrors to catch the daylight that illuminated the viewing platform, and the slight resistance of the metal parts as she adjusted the lens. She marvelled at herself, not for the first time, at adapting so well to the primitive approaches of her adopted land. She did not miss the technology of her old world at all, but took pleasure in manipulating the outmoded instruments of investigation in this strange but beautiful country. For her, it was a return to the simple truths of upholding the law, which she cherished. She placed the transparent fingerprints from the knife, on the viewing platform of the large microscope, alongside the file of prints taken from the suspect, and adjusted another mirror to bring natural light to both.
As she peered through the microscope’s lens, a landscape suddenly came into focus below, a landscape of the hand with ridges, whorls and arcs, like the contours of the old maps she had seen in her childhood. She examined the prints carefully, comparing one set to the other. She sighed. Amelia was right.
‘Come and look, Amelia!’ she called over her shoulder. Amelia was beside her instantly.
‘Look into the microscope! What do you see?’
Amelia peered into the microscope. She had never used one before. She gasped suddenly. ‘It is like… a landscape! Is this truly what our fingers look like?’
‘Yes, it is. Amelia, look again. Do these fingerprints match?’
‘No, they do not. I can see that clearly. I was right!’
‘ Yes, you were, Amelia. But who is the real murderer? What about this nephew you spoke of?’
‘He has an alibi. But, Morag, I thing that you should know his name!’
‘What is it?’
‘Haga!’ Morag felt a jolt. The handsome faery that had once broken her heart. She could hardly believe it.
‘I am sorry. Morag’. Amelia said, sadly.
Morag drew herself together, and took a deep breath. ’All right, let’s find the killer. But first I’d like to interview our first suspect and find out what he knows. And then…’.
‘I’ll interview our next suspect, with your help, Amelia’.
‘Of course, Morag’.
They turned as the door opened. Ragimund came in. She looked distressed and worried. ‘Please, Morag. I need to speak with you….alone’.
‘Yes, of course, you’re the boss’. Morag smiled, but was still disconcerted.
‘Now, if you don’t mind’. Ragimund seemed agitated.
‘What is it, Ragimund?’
‘It is Simon. He is with me. He did not return with Annie’.
‘Yes, he has proposed marriage to me’.
Morag took Ragimund into her apartment. Ragimund was clearly worried and wanted to talk. Morag, on the other hand, was full of excitement. ‘That’s wonderful news, Ragimund! I’m so happy for you! Both of you, I mean. Congratulations!’
‘Thank you, Morag. I am genuinely happy’. She gave Morag a radiant smile. ‘But I am worried, too. You see, I promised Annie that I would never break the bond between them. I could not allow that to happen, and yet’, she paused, ‘I fear that our marriage will do that’.
‘Listen to me, Ragimund’. Morag said, soberly. ‘I know that Annie would want you and Simon to be very happy in your life together. She would never stand in the way of that. You, nor I or anyone, for that matter, will never, ever break the bond that exists between them. It is too strong for anyone to break. So please set your mind at rest. Your marriage will not affect that bond. It will always be there. Oh, yes, can I come to your wedding? That’s if faerys have weddings’.
Ragimund burst out laughing, She seemed happy again, and reassured. ‘Of course, they do. Nothing like those in your land. But they are still joyous occasions!’
‘I hope yours will be. You said Simon was here?’
‘Yes. He is in my apartment. Do you wish to see him? I know he wishes to see you’.
‘Yes, I do’.
‘Then follow me’.
Ragimund led the way up the stairs through the grand hall to her apartment, and opened the door. ‘Simon!’ she called.
Simon sprang up from chair where he was sitting, looking out of the window overlooking the landscape at the back of Druard’s customs hall. ‘Morag!’ he shouted in delight. They embraced in pleasure. Ragimund stood by, smiling at their joy in seeing each other. ‘Hallo, sonny boy. I gather congratulations are in order. What have you done with Annie?’
Simon’s face fell. ‘She chose to stay behind. She wanted to do something’.
‘What? Do you mean to tell me that she had to break the news of your marriage to your parents, Simon? I’m ashamed of you!’
‘It’s not like that!’ Simon protested . hotly. ‘She..she wanted to tell them something. I don’t know what!’
‘So you let her be the one to tell them!’
‘Please, Morag! It wasn’t like that. She wanted to tell them!’
‘So you let her!’
‘Yes. I let her! It was her wish!’
She looked across at Ragimund. Her eyes were wide and fearful. She laughed. ‘Don’t worry I’m not really cross. In fact, I’m delighted for you both. It’s the best news I could have wished for!’
Both Simon and Ragimund looked relieved again.
‘But there’s something still worrying Annie, and I don’t know what it is’.
Simon shook his head. ‘Nor do I’.
‘Now I’ve got a case to solve. See you later’.
But there were more surprises in store for Morag that day.
‘You have a visitor, Morag. I have put him in your apartment for privacy. He said he wanted to talk to you urgently, but I do not know what about, He is travel-stained and weary’.
Morag immediately turned towards her apartment at the back of her office, without asking who this stranger was. She had already guessed. As she entered, a tall familiar figure turned from the window where her mother’s old chair stood, taking a few steps towards her.
‘Demos!’ she cried. Morag felt a surge of love and affection. She moved forward to embrace him, and suddenly recoiled.
‘Oh, Demos! You’re soaking wet, and covered in mud! Go and have a hot bath, and change your clothes’
‘No arguing! You clean yourself up first, and then you can ask me whatever it is you want to! It can wait until then. Go on, you’. She gave him a playful push towards the bath room, not before giving him a little tender kiss to show she was not angry. Demos went meekly.
Morag went to the window and sat down in her mother’s threadbare old chair and waited for him. After a few minutes, Demos emerged, clad in clean clothes, still a little damp from his bath.
Morag got up from her chair. ‘What is it that you wanted to ask me, Demos?’
He did not reply immediately, Instead, he dropped down on one knee. Morag looked down at him, dumbfounded. What on earth was he going to ask her? His face was twitching with emotion and nervousness. ‘What is it, Demos?’ she asked, gently. ‘Tell me’.
‘Morag’, He was stammering in his nervousness. ‘I want you do me the honour of marrying me’.
Morag stood for a moment, astounded, ‘I..oh!’
Then she recovered herself. ‘Yes, Demos, I do want to marry you. And please get up off your knees before you fall over’.
Demos scrambled to his feet , his face alight with joy. Morag smiled at him. ‘Don’t you want to kiss your bride-to-be?’
Yes, I do, Morag!’
He embraced her tightly and kissed her, passionately. She kissed him back. She felt the warmth of happiness through her, down to her feet. It was at this moment that Persephone opened the door. She saw them in their embrace, and blushed. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Morag….I didn’t mean to…’
She disappeared behind the door again. ‘Oh, dear’. Morag said smiling. ‘We’d better tell her’. They went out into the office, Morag leading Demos by the hand. Persephone looked up from behind her desk. ‘Please, Morag, I’m so sorry to have disturbed you’. she said, shyly.
‘Not at all. Persephone. Demos and I are going to get married’.
‘What!’ Persephone’s mouth opened and stayed agape.
‘Close your mouth, Persephone, and give me a hug’.
Persephone scurried round her desk and clasped Morag around the waist tightly. ‘I’m so happy for you, Morag’. she whispered, breathlessly, against Morag’s tunic. She was so much smaller, that the top of her head only came up to Morag’s chest. She bent her head and kissed Persephone’s silky black hair, affectionately. She had grown very fond of the young Barbarossi girl, whom she had rescued from slavery some months before.
‘Come on, time for some work!’ she said briskly, ‘I’ve still got to interview the accused, and then this bastard Haga, if that’s who he is’.
‘He is in the question room, Morag. I brought him from his cell for you’. It was Amelia, who had reappeared at the doorway. ‘And congratulations on your forthcoming marriage. I am pleased for you’.
‘Thank you, Amelia’. She turned to Demos. ‘You stay here. Now we’re betrothed, I’m certainly not letting you ride all the way back again. But I’ve got work to do. Promise me, you’ll be here when I get back’.
‘I will, Morag’. he smiled at her. She smiled back, and leant forward and kissed him hard, her hands holding his face, ignoring the other two in the room. ‘I love you, Demos’, she said, tenderly.
She followed Amelia to the question room on the ground floor. As she entered, she noticed that it was like an interrogation room everywhere. Not large, with bare stone walls, and a single small window , set high in the wall, heavily barred. It cast a single beam of light into the dark interior, enough light to see a hunched figure sitting on the other side of a bare table. She sat down on the only other wooden chair opposite the figure,who turned out be a young dark-haired man, tense and worried. He was biting his lips with worry.
‘Are you Farix? She asked, her voice unnaturally loud in the small dark room.
‘Yes’. His voice was almost inaudible.
‘Farix, I’m marshal Morag. I want to ask you a few questions’.
‘Farix, did you murder your father?’
‘No!’ his reply was vehement.
‘Very well. I believe you, Farix’.
The young faery raised his head for the first time. His face was grey and haggard, and his eyes were blank.
‘You believe me? Nobody else does’.
‘Why did you go and see your father that night?’
Farix raised himself upright. ‘I wanted to ask him for money. You see, I wanted to marry this girl, and to prove to her that I was worthy of keeping her. I wanted to start up my own business in trading, just like my father, but I needed money to start. He said that I must raise my own money, just like him. I left in a temper, but he was alive then. I swear it!’
Morag pulled out a sealed brown paper bag from her satchel, opened it, and carefully pulled out a long knife, that she placed on the table between them. ‘Have you seen this knife before?’ she asked.
Farix looked at it blankly. ‘No, I have never seen it before. Is that the knife that killed my…my father?’
‘Yes, it is. It still carries traces of his blood’.
‘He was a good man. I would never hurt him. You must believe me, Marshal Morag!’
‘I do. I have evidence to prove your innocence. But you must trust me. Tomorrow, in front of the court, I will reveal that evidence. But for your own safety, you must remain under lock and key until tomorrow. Will you do that?’
Farix hesitated, then nodded his head.
‘Good, do not fear, Farix. Tomorrow, I will prove your innocence. Go with this marshal to your cell, for the time being’.
She motioned for Amelia, who had been standing guard by the door, to come forward and take the prisoner, and then leant back in her chair and then folded her hands to her face, in preparation for the next interview. She was not looking forward to it.
The door opened again. Haga walked in. He stiffened in surprise as he recognised Morag, then reassumed his original demeanour of indifferent arrogance. He sat down, contemptuously, without being invited, and stared at her.
‘So the human bitch has gone up in the world, has she? On your back, with legs wide, no doubt!’
It was a calculated insult. But Morag had had worse as a policewoman. She decided to let the insults just wash over her, though she could feel Amelia, behind her, bristle at such provocation.
‘I see you haven’t changed, Haga’. She remarked, quietly. She could not afford to allow him to provoke her, if her plan was to work.
‘Nor have you, Morag. Once a slut, always a slut, that’s what I say’.
‘Where is your knife, Haga?’ Morag suddenly said, looking down at the empty scabbard strapped to Haga’s right leg. ‘I lost it’. he said, glibly.
‘ Where?’ Morag suddenly snapped.
‘How should I know? If it’s lost, I don’t know where it will be!’
Morag decided to try to placate him, though it was hard to swallow her pride, in the face of his rudeness. She indicated the bottle of wine and the two glass tumblers on the table. ‘Well, never mind that. Have a drink with me, Haga’.
‘I don’t mind if I do. Though I do not drink normally with whores!’ He stared greedily at the bottle. Morag, trying to contain her revulsion, opened the bottle and filled both tumblers. She pushed one across to Haga.
‘You drink first’.
‘Very well. She picked up one of the tumblers and drank deeply, while Haga watched, a smirk on his face. He nodded, then picked up the other tumbler, raised it to his lips, and drained it noisily.
‘More!’ he said, pushing his empty glass back across the table. ‘Fill it properly this time, wench’.
Morag gritted her teeth. He was enjoying humiliating her, treating her like a common tavern slut. But she kept quiet and meekly filled his glass to the brim. Haga snatched it from her without a word of thanks, and leant back in his chair, insolently.
‘ What say you, Marshal Morag, to come with me to my abode, and have a quick tumble between the sheets, and a swift poke or two! I’m sure you will enjoy that, especially as a paid whore!’
This was finally too much. Morag leant forward. ‘I wouldn’t touch you with a barge-pole, you disgusting piece of dogshit’. She said, savagely. She heard the whisper of a sword half-drawn from its scabbard, behind her. ‘No, Amelia’. She cried, sharply.
‘ How dare you refuse me, you filthy whore!’ Haga screamed, furiously. He picked up his full tumbler of wine and threw the contents full into Morag’s face. Half-blinded, she sprang up from the table, sending her chair backwards with a crash, groping for her sword-hilt. The wine dripped down her face, her eyes stinging from the potent liquid. Wiping them, she saw Amelia, her face ablaze, her sword-tip inches from Haga’s throat, who merely leant back in his chair, his hands raised in mock-surrender.
‘Guards!’ Amelia cried. ‘Guards!’
Two large young faery guards rushed through the door. ‘Put him under lock and key!’ Amelia ordered, pointing to Haga. ‘He has assaulted a faery marshal!’ Both guards saw Morag’s apparently blood-stained tunic, and immediately hauled Haga out of his chair, unceremoniously. ‘Unhand me, you ruffians!’ Haga cried, furiously. For answer, one of the faery guards drove the pommel of his sword hard into Haga’s midriff. Haga collapsed, writhing, on the floor. The other guard kicked him, before stooping to fix a pair of manacles on his wrists, They both yanked him to his feet and marched him out of the door, their prisoner still groaning with pain.
‘Put him in the deepest cell you can find!’ Amelia shouted angrily after them. ‘Morag, are you hurt?’
Morag was still mopping her face with her hankerchief. Her eyes were sore with the wine. Her tunic was spattered with red stains. But she still smiled. ‘Only my dignity and pride. I believe we’ve found our murderer, because now we have his fingerprints’. She pointed at Haga’s empty tumbler, which she carefully picked up with Amelia’s proffered hankerchief, and slipped it into a brown paper evidence bag and sealed it.
‘Is that why you let that vile creature insult you? I would have had his head for that!’
‘We’ll let the court decide that. Let’s take this to Persephone, and compare the prints’.
As she walked along the corridor with Amelia, she felt suddenly miserable, demoralised and close to tears. They came to her office and opened the door.
Demos and Persephone were talking animatedly, both on opposite sides of Persephone’s desk. At the sight of them both, Morag’s threatening tears broke through, despite her self –control, and flooded down her face. She burst into great heaving sobs and ran across to Demos, who sprang up and opened his arms to her. He looked down at her red-stained tunic. ‘Who has hurt you, my love?’ He cried angrily. ‘I will have their heads!’
Morag just buried her face in his shoulder, still weeping in shame and humiliation. ‘Please comfort me, Demos!’ she whispered into his tunic, her hands around him gripping the material tightly into folds. Demos simply stroked her sleek dark hair affectionately, which calmed her down.
‘She has been subject to a torrent of abuse from that creature, and had wine dashed in her face!’ Amelia cried, angrily. ‘I would have had Haga’s head, if he had done it to me!’
‘Haga! That insolent oaf! I will teach him a lesson!’ roared Demos, as furious as Amelia.
‘Stop it, you two!’ Morag pushed herself away from Demos, and wiped her eyes. ‘Persephone, take the prints from this’, she delved into her satchel, ‘and fix them. I need to look at them under the microscope’.
Persephone took the sealed brown bag and opened it, taking out the glass that Morag had picked up during the interrogation. Using a small brush, she carefully dusted the glass, blew on it to remove any excess powder, then examined it closely. ‘I can see clear prints!’ she exclaimed excitedly.
‘Print them, please, Persephone’. Morag said. She was as excited as the others, at the thought of conclusive evidence of their murderer. Persephone carefully applied strips of transparent paper to the prints on the glass, then slowly peeled them away. She laid each strip on a sheet of ordinary paper, and delicately sprayed them with one of the little perfume bottles they had improvised. Blowing on them gently, to dry them, she at last stood back.
‘There are your prints, Morag’. she said proudly. Morag looked eagerly at them. The prints were absolutely clear, displaying their characteristic whorls and arcs.
‘Let’s look at them under the microscope’. Morag suggested. She wanted there to be no doubt whatsoever about Haga’s guilt. She knew what she would find, but she had to make sure. She adjusted the lens of the microscope and peered down at the finger prints below on the platen. Persephone had laid out both the fingerprints taken from the knife and the fingerprints from the glass. Morag stared at them and then gave a gasp. The fingerprints were identical. She hurriedly placed the knife fingerprints over those of Haga’s. They matched exactly.
‘Persephone! Look into the microscope and tell me what you see!’
Persephone peered into the microscope. She gave a little squeak of excitement. ‘They are identical! Oh, Morag, does this mean we have found our murderer?’
‘Yes, it does. Amelia, will you come and have a look as well? You need to be witness to our findings’.
Amelia looked through the lens, and gave a small shout of triumph. ‘Yes, they are identical! Haga is our killer!’
‘Demos, you look as well. I want all witnesses to confirm our findings. I am going to have a bath. I feel…unclean’. Demos bent down to the microscope. ‘You are right, Morag!’ he cried. But Morag was already gone to her bathroom.
A little while later, Morag rose up from her bath. She felt clean again, away from the vile smell of the villain, Haga. She stepped out and towelled herself dry. Then she decided. Demos should have an unexpected treat. A warm pang of love sprang up as she thought of him. Dear Demos, who was always there for her, and never questioned her or her actions, sometimes late, but always generous and loving, not like that bastard Haga, who had now added cold-blooded murder to his repertoire of wickedness. How had she ever once fallen in love with him? Not bothering to dress, she opened the bathroom door, and called out into the darkening apartment
‘I am here, Morag’. He got up from the cushions where he was reclining and took a few steps towards her, framed in the bathroom doorway. The he stopped in admiration, as he saw her, splendidly nude. ‘Morag, you look so…so beautiful!’ She held out her arms to him. ‘Come to me, Demos’. she said, smiling at him.
‘You…you look like a goddess!’
‘That’s the right answer, Demos’. she smiled at him again. ‘I need you, Demos. Very much. I love you’.
He took a few steps forward and clasped her to him. He ran his hand down the warm skin of her back. She shivered in pleasure, and took his hand. ‘Come with me, Demos. I haven’t really given you much of a welcome. Let me make it up to you’. Demos let her lead him by the hand, as if in a dream. She led him into her small bedroom. She pushed the door with her bare right heel, naked as she was. It closed behind them, the latch fastening with a loud click.
Persephone looked up as Ragimund swept in to the office. Behind her trailed two more figures, disconsolately. She recognised them immediately from Morag’s birthday party. They were Indira, the voluptuous and attractive Indian woman, and the equally attractive Chinese woman, Pei-Ying, an inseparable friend of Indira. They were both close friends of Annie and Simon, but this evening they both looked subdued and worried. Ragimund was scowling. ‘I need to speak to Morag, as a matter of urgency’.
Persephone’s heart sank. She could see that Ragimund was wrathful. It was better to be neutral on such occasions. ‘I will go and get her’. she said, quietly. She went into Morag’s apartment, and crossed to the bedroom door, hoping she had guessed rightly. She knocked gently, even timidly, on the door.
Demos and Morag lay naked together in the bed, their arms intertwined like branches on the pillows above their heads. They were both in that delicious drowsy state between sleep and wakefulness, where time is suspended in warmth and contentment. They heard the quiet knock at the door, and eventually Morag roused herself. Disentangling her arm, she raised herself on one elbow. ‘Who is it?’ she called.
‘It is I, Persephone. Morag, I am truly sorry to have awakened you, but the lady Ragimund is here, and she wishes to speak with you urgently’.
‘All right, tell her I’ll be out in a few moments’. She leant over and kissed her husband-to-be. ‘I’ll be back soon, I promise’. She got out of bed and began to dress. Demos watched her in pleasure. ‘Oi, stop ogling me! I’ll be back soon’. she laughed. ‘See you in a while, loverboy’.
She found Persephone hovering anxiously outside the door. ‘I am sorry, Morag! I did not know!’ She had caught a glimpse of Demos before Morag had shut it behind her.
‘It doesn’t matter, Persephone. Where is Ragimund?’
‘She is in your office, Morag’.
Morag went out into the office, where she found Ragimund, seething. She still had a scowl on her face. Behind her were two figures that she recognised immediately. ‘Indira! Pei-Ying! What are you two doing here?’ Morag asked, curiously.
‘Why? What’s happened, Indira?’
‘My mum. She died last week. Physically worn out, they said. I’m not surprised!’
‘I’m really sorry, Indira’. Morag said, sincerely.She knew what is was like to lose a mother.
‘Yeah, and my bastard brothers are putting pressure on me to give up any plans I had about going to university, and marry some rich old git, that I don’t even know! For the good of the family, they say. Pah!’
‘I am in the same position’. Pei-ying said sadly. ‘My mother died two days before Indira’s’.
Their faces, in repose, bore the imprint of sadness and grief. She warmed to them. She could see that Indira, despite all her bluster, was close to tears, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
Morag tried one last time to change their minds. ‘Do you realise that you’d be giving up everything to come here? Everything you’re used to, will disappear. Television, computers, mobiles, everything! You’ll have to adapt to slow, hard ways of doing things. Think about what you’ll lose! Your families, friends, your way of life!’
‘We’ve already lost them!’ Indira snapped. ‘You think we can go back now? We’re going to live for a thousand years, Morag! All of us, including you! You think we can bear to go home, and see all our friends and relatives wither away and grow old before our eyes! Do you?’
Morag stared at her. ‘What do you mean by that?’
Indira stared back. ‘You think that Pei-Ying and I could stand that? That was Annie’s secret, one that she couldn’t tell us!’
Morag stayed silent, thinking about the long centuries ahead, but also about her impending marriage. Would their love stand that test of time? Yes, it would, she decided. Demos was definitely someone she would choose to spend the rest of her life with, no matter how long. Having made her decision, she would honour it. She smiled at them both.
‘You might as well know. Demos and I are getting married’.
Indira’s mouth fell open in delight. ‘That’s fantastic!’
‘We are pleased for you’. said Pei-Ying, with her characteristic understatement, but with a dazzling smile in return.
‘And Simon and I are betrothed as well’. Ragimund said, not to be outdone.
‘Wow, a double wedding! That’s brilliant!’ Exclaimed Indira, with delight. ‘Can we come?’
‘Of course. You’re both invited’.
‘Wait! I still have to decide what to do with these two!’ Ragimund snapped. ‘They have no right to come into my land and expect me to find them employment!’
‘We didn’t!’ Indira said, hotly. ‘We don’t expect any favours, not from the faerys!’
Morag decided to intervene. ‘Ragimund, why don’t you take these two on as probationary marshals until they have successfully completed their training? That way, they cannot be accused of obtaining unnecessary favours. I’m sure they will make very good marshals so long as they complete their training successfully, and subject to the same conditions as everybody else. Would that satisfy you?’
Ragimund pondered this for a moment. ‘That would be acceptable, provided they satisfy the requirements to be a marshal. That will guarantee them residency here, as long as they wish’.
‘Whoopee! Pei, we’re going to be marshals! Don’t worry, Ragimund, we promise to be good little girls!’
‘There will be no need to revert to childhood’. Ragimund said, stiffly. ‘Just a will to learn and assimilate your teaching’.
Morag suppressed a grin. Ragimund, typically, took such human language literally, and failed to see the humour that lay in it. Simon would, no doubt, educate her, eventually.
‘Ragimund, would you look at my evidence, in this case’. she asked. ‘I need your confirmation’.
She led the way to the large microscope, with Ragimund following. Persephone brought over the fingerprint file, without being asked. Morag smiled her thanks, and laid some of the transparencies on the viewing platen under the microscope lens. She stood back to let Ragimund peer into the instrument.
‘I see two sets of these prints of these fingers. But they are not the same!’
‘Exactly. The ones on the left are taken from the murder weapon. The others belong to the son, Farix’.
‘So, it was not Farix that inflicted the deadly blow! He is innocent!’
‘Yes, on this evidence. That is clear. But look at these prints now’.
She replaced Farix’s prints with the ones taken from the wine tumbler, that Persephone had prepared, and stood back again. Ragimund peered into the microscope, and gave a small shout of triumph. ‘They are identical! Exactly! This is our murderer!’
‘Those are Haga’s prints, for which I was roundly abused in getting them’.
‘That swine! He is a disgrace to our people. Morag, you must prove this beyond all doubt to the judges tomorrow, and convince them, as you have convinced me, of his guilt! We want to end this quickly!’
‘I will. To do that, I’m going to provide a demonstration tomorrow of fingerprinting to show how essential this technique is, once and for all!’
‘Good. Then you will act as prosecutor tomorrow. That would be appropriate’.
‘Very well’. Morag said. ‘If you think that’s right’.
‘I do think so. Only you can do that. Convince the judges tomorrow, and we will have a new weapon in our armoury, in our campaign to uphold the law!’
‘I’ll do my best’. Morag replied. Inwardly, her heart sank. She had no experience of appearing before a high court in a murder trial. She felt nervous at the responsibility.
‘Remember, Morag’, She heard Ragimund say. ‘This is about proving innocence as well as guilt. Farix will depend on you’.
Morag knew only too well. Tomorrow would bring the responsibility of proving her beloved finger print technique beyond doubt in a murder trial. She resolutely put it away from her until then.
‘Have you heard from Annie?’ she asked, anxiously.
Ragimund shook her head. ‘No, not yet. She will appear in her own time’. She smiled. ‘Especially when she knows her brother and sister are to be married’.
‘I hope you’re right’. Morag replied dismally. She was worried that Annie had sent no news of herself. But Ragimund was right. Annie would reappear sooner or later.
Ragimund decided to disappear, to find quarters for her new potential marshals, with Pei-Ying and a more gleeful Indira in her wake.
Morag looked across at the large microscope, standing in the window alcove. She had an idea of what she would do tomorrow. Leaving Persephone in charge of the office, she walked into her apartment in search of Demos. To her surprise, he had already arisen, and was sitting at the window where her mother’s armchair stood, looking out at the moonlit night beyond.
‘Demos!’ she called softly in the dark apartment, lit only by a few sputtering oil lamps. ‘Demos, I want you to do me a favour’. His face shone palely in the semi-darkness. ‘Ask it, Morag. I would move the pillars of Hercules for you’.
She smile, gratefully. ‘No, there’s no need for that. Just the microscope will do. I’ll need it tomorrow in court’.
‘Of course. I will rise up early and do it then’.
‘Thank you, Demos. May I ask you something else?’
She went on, in a rush, not trusting herself to change her mind.
Demos, taken aback by her vehemence, agreed. ‘If that is what you want, Morag, I shall do so, gladly. I shall make arrangements to have my work on those ancient scrolls sent here’.
‘I do want it, Demos. I’m sorry to be so bossy, but I can’t bear the thought of you riding all that way every time. I’d rather you be here, where I can keep an eye on you!’
‘All right, Morag. If it makes you happy’.
‘It does. Oh, Demos! I really do love you so much! I just want you here!’ Morag cried, full of emotion.
‘Then I will remain here, to be with you, my love’. Demos said, proudly.
‘Good. That’s settled then’. she said, happily. She kissed him again, her arms around his neck. ‘It’s getting late. Let’s go to bed’. They retreated into Morag’s apartment.
Persephone smiled after them, glad to see the momentary glimpse of happiness on both their faces. The she resumed work at her desk, labelling the finger prints for the court the next day.
It was morning. The bright early sun filtered through the closed shutters on the narrow window in Morag’s bedroom, awakening her from her troubled sleep. She turned over , and stretched out a lazy arm across the bed. Demos was not there. She hoisted herself drowsily and peered down. The imprint of his body was still there on the sheets. In a panic, she got up, wrapping her dressing-robe around herself, and pulled open the door into her office. Persephone was already at her desk, tidying the last few documents on its surface. She looked up in surprise.
‘Where’s Demos? Where has he gone?’ Morag asked, her voice still husky with sleep.
‘He has gone to take the microscope to the courtroom, as you asked him to do. He was up very early to do that. I saw him’.
‘No, there’s nothing wrong. Just for a moment, I was afraid that Demos had run away from me’.
‘He would never run away from you, Morag. He loves you! He will be back shortly, you will see’.
‘Yes, you’re right. It was silly of me’. Morag said with an air of relief. ‘I’m going to have a bath. I want you to come with me this morning and take charge of the files’.
‘I will do so, Morag’.
She hastily collected all the files they would need, while Morag washed and prepared herself for the day ahead, in the bathhouse.
After her bath, she asked Persephone in for breakfast, guessing rightly, as it happened, that Persephone had missed her meal to come in early. The young girl was so loyal to her. Demos reappeared halfway through. Morag was desperately delighted to see him.
‘I have set up the microscope in the courtroom’, he announced. ‘All is ready’.
‘All right, then, let’s go’.
Before they left, Morag hugged and kissed Demos. ‘ Never leave me, will you?’
‘Never’. Demos said, firmly.
Hearing the sounds of conversation behind her, Morag turned around. To her surprise, the courtroom had filled up with people, mainly faerys, eager to see the progress of a trial that involved two of their own. The two rows behind her were filled with her fellow marshals, who had come to give her support. They all greeted her with delight, including Amelia, who sat in the second row, a little way nearer the central corridor that ran through the packed seats. Morag greeted them back with pleasure, delighted that they were there, to give her confidence.
Their greetings were interrupted by a sudden silence. The judges had entered from a side door at the front of the court. As they sat down in the three thrones behind the great desk, Morag studied their faces. She remembered that she had to convince them that her fingerprint evidence was valid in a serious case of this sort.
The one on the left did not present any problem, she thought. Short, tubby and affable, his face bore a look of geniality. She looked at the other judge on the right. This one presented problems. Tall, thin and angular, his face wore a perpetual scowl of disapproval. He was one to watch. The central presiding judge was a different matter, altogether. His face was like stone, and almost unreadable. He sat like a basilisk, his eyes unmoving. Even his voice, when he spoke, had the bleak finality of stone grating upon stone.
‘Bring in the accused’. He said.
Morag’s heart sank. Farix was bundled into the dock, his face haggard with misery, his hands and feet manacled. But he caught sight of Morag sitting on the bench. His eyes lit up with hope. Morag kept hers fixed on him. She wished she could give him a sign. Only then was she aware of Persephone, beside her on the bench, tugging at her sleeve desperately. ‘What is it, Persephone?’
‘That man! The one in the centre! That is Jevo’s father!’
‘What!’ Morag gasped. ‘Oh, no!’ Jevo was Persephone’s paramour. But his father had forbidden any contact between them, on the grounds that Persephone was Barbarossi, and hence unworthy of his son. Morag knew that Persephone was very distressed, because of this, and felt for her.
The judge raked his eyes around the audience. He passed over Morag and Persephone without a sign of recognition. Morag heaved a sigh of relief. The chief judge turned a face like stone, to the prisoner.
‘How do you plead?’
‘Not guilty, your honours’. Farix replied in a firm, clear voice.
‘Very well. Call the physician!’
A name was called, and Thursday the physician got up from his seat at the far end of the front bench to give his testimony. His tall figure strode, almost disdainfully, to the witness stand. His cowl was thrown back, revealing his close-cropped black skull, and this, together with his long, beak-like nose, reminded Morag of a vulture, about to descend on its prey. But his evidence was delivered with brevity and sharpness.
‘I was called to the house of Periphas to examine his body early on Sunday morning last. The victim had been killed by a single thrust to the heart, resulting in instantaneous death. His time of death, was, I believe, between ten and twelve the previous night. I determined that both by the extent of rigor mortis and by the temperature of the liver. The victim had been killed sitting at his desk, and fell to the floor immediately afterwards. Hence the blow was directed slightly downwards from a taller man leaning over the desk to strike. From their relative positions, I would say the killer was right-handed. I have examined the murder weapon. It is a long, thin-bladed knife, like a stiletto or a poniard. It carried traces of dried blood, which on closer inspection, was identical to the victim’s blood’.
‘Thank you, physician. Now we must view the murder weapon. Marshal!’
Morag dutifully rose from her seat, and carried the sealed bag, with the knife inside, to the front desk. Unsealing the bag, she carefully pulled out the knife by its blade, using a cloth, then stepped back. The three judges scrutinised it carefully. The court audience also craned forward to have a better look. The knife gleamed on the table, a deadly and sinister object. It was clearly not a kitchen knife, but one made especially for the purpose of killing, an assassin’s knife. Morag shuddered as she looked at it.
‘Is this the weapon that you examined, physician?’ The chief judge asked.
Thursday glanced at it, perfunctorily. ‘It is’. he replied, briefly.
‘Then it seems a straightforward case. We must pass sentence’. The presiding judge said, coldly. All three judges looked at each other and nodded. Farix leant forward in despair.
‘Wait! I have further evidence to prove that Farix is innocent!’ Morag cried, springing to her feet. Farix looked up in new hope. A barely muffled whisper of excitement went around the court.
‘What new evidence is this, Marshal?’ The chief judge’s voice was still cold.
‘Prints of fingers! Pah! What mummery is this?’ the tall, angular judge spoke disdainfully.
‘It is no mummery. It is solid evidence that Farix is innocent of this crime! Your honours, will you not come and see for yourselves? I have arranged a microscope for you!’ She pointed to the instrument on a table by one of the windows of the courtroom. The three judges looked across at it.
‘Very well, marshal. Show us your proof!’
Without saying another word, Morag led the three judges across to the microscope, their robes fluttering around them. Behind them, the court broke into an animated buzz of conversation, eager to hear the results of this unusual demonstration. She broke open the sealed bag that contained the prints from knife and those of the accused, Farix, and laid them onto the horizontal platen beneath the microscope, adjusted the instrument, then stood back. ‘Please look’. She invited.
The chief judge, who Morag had by now, mentally christened Stonewall, because of his impassive countenance, bent down and peered through the lens. He gave a small start, then stepped aside to allow his colleagues to take their turn. Both in turn, gave a small gasp as they examined the prints. ‘The ones on the left are Farix’s. The ones on the right are the prints taken from the knife’. Morag explained, helpfully. ‘They are not the same!’ gasped the small tubby judge as he stepped away to allow his colleague his turn, whose disagreeable face melted into shocked disbelief, as he viewed the prints.
‘How can this be so?’ he gasped, ‘ We believed it was a clear decision’.
‘Who, then is the real murderer?’ asked the small, tubby one, practically.
‘I shall show you’. She beckoned Persephone over. She trotted forward, carrying the file with the fateful prints in it. The tall thin man looked at her with a scowl on his face. ‘Do you employ such Barbarossi slave-girls in your service? A daughter of a mere soldier?’ he sneered. How did he know that?
Persephone drew herself up to her full, somewhat diminutive height. Her face was crimson with anger. ‘Yes, I am Barbarossi, I am no longer a slave! Thanks to Marshal Morag! My father was a great Barbarossi general! His name was General Barribas, and he fought honourably and nobly against you! I am proud to have such a father! He was honourable and good, and I, as his daughter, will not have his name besmirched by you or anybody else! Think of me what you will, but I am proud of what I am, and my father. He was killed at the battle of the West Wall, but I bear no grudge against your people. He died in battle, as he would have wanted!’
Her voice echoed around the room.
There was a buzz of conversation around the court, as well as a few muted cheers, from the assembled marshals. The accused judge coughed and shuffled his feet in embarrassment, knowing that the court had turned against him. Stonewall whirled around and strode to the judges’ table, where he banged down his gavel upon its slate square on the desk, its tinny sound reverberating around the courtroom. ‘Silence in the court!’ he roared. The hubbub subsided into a respectful silence.
Morag turned to the small, slight figure of Persephone. The girl, she could see, was now trying hard not to cry, but not very successfully. ‘Go back to your seat, Persephone’. She said as gently as possible. ‘Give me that file first’. The young girl meekly handed over the file, and trotted back to her seat in the front row, wiping her eyes.
Stonewall returned to the little group around the microscope. ‘I believe you have further evidence you wish to show us?’ he said, coolly. ‘I have, your honour’. She replied, studying his face. But Stonewall did not betray the slightest sign of emotion. She sighed and placed the last set of prints on the platen, and stood back again. ‘These are, I believe, the prints of the true murderer. If you would like to compare them to those on the knife…’ She left the rest of her sentence unsaid.
Stonewall bent down over the microscope again, peering through the lens. He drew in his breath sharply as he looked down at the prints, then beckoned his fellow judges over for their turn. The small, fat one gave a squeal of excitement. ‘They are the same!’ he cried, ‘Exactly identical!’ The tall thin judge looked into the microscope, and then grudgingly nodded his head. All three trooped back and resumed their seats behind the large desk in the centre of the courtroom, resuming their impassive countenances.
‘What is the true identity of the true murderer, Marshal? Name him!’ Stonewall said, coldly. Morag stood up and pointed a dramatic finger at Haga. ‘The prints on the knife are his, your honour. I took them from the tumbler he used, when he dashed wine in my face! When we compared them with the ones found on the blade, we found they were one and the same! That is the evidence I have brought to the court. It also proves that Farix did not murder his father, alibi or not. He is innocent, your honour. But the evidence we have show that Haga is guilty!’
‘But what of Haga’s own alibi? He has brought forth three witnesses to testify that he was gaming in the tavern during the time when the murder was committed’. The short, fat judge said, reasonably.
‘Let us speak to them’. Stonewall replied. ‘Call the witnesses!’ he cried.
The three men shuffled onto their feet in the second row. They looked ill-at-ease and uncomfortable. Two were undoubtedly foreign, as the cut of their clothes indicated. They were swarthy and unshaven. The third was undoubtedly faery, though his face was slightly swollen and dissipated, due to a fondness for too much drink. At least he looked presentable, with a relatively clean tunic over his breeches and tall boots. They did not look like reliable witnesses, in Morag’s opinion. But Stonewall still addressed them courteously.
‘Do you still swear that Haga was with you all that night?’
The faery looked at his friends, who nodded.
‘They lie!’ A voice shouted from above.
Morag swung around, startled. The three judges also looked up, as did the rest of the court. A small figure was standing up in the very back row of the room, high above their heads. Even as they looked, the figure moved towards the central aisle.
Morag recognised her, immediately. But the figure continued her way down the central stairs. Haga, stretching nonchalantly across his seat, suddenly stiffened, and sat bolt upright. The figure, who was shorter than most faerys, reached the bottommost stair, and stood in the witness-box, with a defiant expression on her young, comely face.
‘You are a witness, I take it? Identify yourself and then speak!’ Stonewall said to her.
I am a witness. My name is Danae, and I am faery! I am, or was a consort to Haga. But I will not be consort to a murderer! He was not in the tavern all that night, as he purports to be! He was gone from there for an hour at least. between the hours of ten and eleven. I know, because I went to the door and shouted after him, as he was walking down the street away from the tavern. But he did not heed me!’
‘In what direction did he walk?’ Stonewall interrupted.
‘Towards the house of Periphas’
Stonewall nodded. ‘I see’. Was all he said.
Danae resumed. ‘`Upon his return, I saw and heard the clink of money from his hands to theirs. It was not a case of repaying debts, for he had been winning at the game table before this. It was a bribe to his friends to keep their mouths shut, and to vouch for his presence during that evening!’
‘I see’. Stonewall said again, his voice non-committal. He turned to his fellow judges. ‘We must question these fellows again’. He looked at the three men, who still stood uncomfortably. ‘Do you still hold to your testimony? Remember, if you lie to this court, you will be held in contempt, and you will have to pay the price!’
The three men shuffled, uncertain of what to do. Then the faery member of the group spoke up.
‘The girl speaks truth. Haga was gone from the tavern at that time. But, your honour, we did not know where, and did not question him! It is true that we did accept money from him to say he was where he was not. We crave your mercy, your honour! We thought nothing of it at the time!’
‘At last, you speak the truth! What of you two, do you support your friend in this?’ Stonewall glared at his companions. The shorter of the two replied, in a sharp gutteral voice. He cleared his throat before replying. ‘Yes, we do. your honour. He speaks the truth’. The other one just nodded.
‘So, now you speak the truth! Sit down!’
The three men subsided onto their seats, and stared hopelessly at their feet. ‘Can we now reach a verdict?’ Stonewall asked the other two judges. ‘We have heard all the evidence’ He conferred with them quickly, in whispers. The whole court waited in suspense for their verdict in silence. Morag bowed her head, waiting.
Instead, Stonewall looked at Danae, grimly.
‘Why did you not speak of this before?’
‘Because I did not hear of this trial until this morning, and felt it my duty to come and bear witness’. She replied, staunchly. There is another thing I have remembered. When Haga left the tavern, his knife was in his scabbard, but when he returned, it was missing’.
‘Is this the knife?’ asked Stonewall, indicating the weapon on the table before him.
Danae looked at it very carefully then pointed. ‘Yes, I recognise the way in which the hilt is moulded. It is Haga’s knife’.
‘Very well. You are dismissed. Fare you well, Danae’
‘Thank you, your honour’.
As she passed Morag, she gave her a small bow, which Morag returned. She realised that Danae was repaying her debt to her, for saving her from drowning, during the raid on the Circlassian port some time ago. As she went on up the stairs to her seat at the back, Haga sprang to his feet. ‘You treacherous little whore!’ he spat at her, his face contorted in rage. Danae ignored him completely, not even looking at him, continuing her dignified ascent. The court around her muttered angrily at Haga, who quickly sat down again, face still set in hatred.
Stonewall looked at him, severely. ‘You will behave yourself in my court!’ he admonished him. The tide of opinion in the court itself was fast turning against Haga, who did nothing to help himself by glaring at all around him in defiance.
‘So, Haga, your alibi is in tatters, and your knife has been positively identified as yours. You had the motive, the means and the opportunity to carry out this dastardly murder!’ Stonewall cried, now suddenly angry.
‘So what? The old fool was stupid. He denied me my inheritance! I never thought it would be so easy to kill. A quick thrust of the knife and the old fool was dead before he even knew it! He never even cried out! He said I would have to wait. Wait! I needed that money now! And the old fool denied me! Me, Haga! How dare he! Did he not realise who I am? Me, who has every woman lapping from my hand? Who can gull old men out of their riches, and make the world turn? He dared to deny me!’
Haga ran out of breath at this point in his tirade, But he was standing, lost in his own speech, panting, eyes bulging. A trail of spittle hung from his mouth. Everyone in the court knew that he had lost his mind, wrapped in his own megalomania. But he drew breath and continued.
‘I renounce this court full of jesters. You are nothing but a pack of rats! You cannot touch me! I am Haga! You are hounds and bitches, like that one there!’ He pointed a quivering finger at Morag. ‘Her with her mumbo-jumbo of prints taken from fingers. What claptrap is that? I spit on them and her too, the lying bitch!’ He pursed his lips and deliberately spat at her, his gob of spittle falling short, landing on the floor near her. She moved her foot away in revulsion, feeling her bloodlust rise against this creature! She stood up, suddenly. ‘You….’ She stopped as she felt strong hands on her shoulders pressing her down from behind. It was Amelia, who had somehow changed places, and who sat directly behind Morag, and held her down in her seat.
‘Sit down, Morag, you can do no good now!’ His mind has cracked. He is throwing out curses like a pinwheel! That accursed creature! He is a danger to himself and to others! He is lost in his own edifice of lies and deceit. He has murdered because of it! Amelia whispered savagely.
Morag was silent. She waited to hear the verdict and the sentence. ‘It is the verdict of this court’, Stonewall intoned, ‘that Haga the faery is guilty of the murder of Periphas, and that he should pay for his death’. There was an immediate hubbub in the courtroom. Stonewall banged his gavel down. There was a sudden silence in the court. The three judges pulled their cowls over their heads, crouching like three hooded vultures in the brightly lit room.
‘We sentence him to death by execution, to be carried out forthwith’. Stonewall’s voice again had the grim finality of stone rasping on stone.
Morag shuddered. ‘They can’t….’
‘Take him!’ Stonewall rasped again. Two large faery guards marched down the steps and dragged Haga, away, still shrieking curses and threats. They could still hear him down the corridor as he was taken to the execution ground ‘He cannot even die with dignity like a true faery’, someone muttered behind Morag.
Even from the execution ground outside, they could hear his ranting, full of oaths and execrable words directed against everybody in the world, except himself. It was terrible to hear such a tirade of hatred. Morag wiped her eyes at last. She reached out for Demos’s hand. There was a dull thunk from outside the windows. The tirade stopped suddenly.
‘He is gone’. Demos said quietly.
The three judges threw their cowls back and uncovered their heads once more. The atmosphere was filled with low conversation, Everyone was unnaturally subdued. Stonewall turned to Jevax who still stood in the dock. ‘Jevax, son of Periphas, we are sorry for your loss. You are innocent of the charges brought against you. Unshackle him! You are free to go’.
‘Free to go?’ Jevax said with bowed head. He sat quietly, as the faery guards undid the chains from his hands and feet, then straightened up painfully. As he did, he caught Morag’s eye. His face lit up in gratitude and wonder. He bowed clumsily to her, before making his ascent up the central stairs out of the courtroom. His journey up was painfully slow, even stumbling one or twice. Morag understood, because she had seen it before. Jevax was drained by his ordeal. For days he had been treading the thin line between life and death, and now had been plucked back from the dark chasm into which Haga had fallen. It was small wonder that he was in a state of shock at his timely rescue, and she felt enormous sympathy for him. At the top of the stairs stood a tall, dark-haired attractive faery woman who held out her arms to him. ‘Jevax!’ she called. He looked up and stumbled up the last few stairs in his haste. She clasped him lovingly in her arms.
Looking up at them, Morag smiled at their happiness. It’s all been worth it, she thought, just to see that.
‘This court is now closed’. announced Stonewall behind her. The courtroom began to empty. But Stonewall remained. ‘A word with you, marshal’. Morag turned round to face him. The other marshals who had gathered around to offer congratulations, fell silent.
‘I wish to compliment you on your introduction of your …finger prints in this case. They contributed enormously to our solution to this crime, and set an innocent man free, as well as finding the true murderer. I thank you, marshal Morag, for finding true justice’.
‘Justice! What justice is in there in executing the guilty man? And so swiftly, before he had a chance to redeem himself?’
‘It is the faery law, marshal. That creature was incapable of redemption! Not only did you prove his guilt, but he offered not the slightest sense of remorse for his actions! You heard him yourself! No, the verdict was fair. I appreciate your misgivings, marshal, but there was no other alternative under our laws. But in future, I will be recommending that these fingerprints be accepted as evidence throughout our courts, They will be a great boon to us lawgivers’.
Morag’s heart sank. She knew she had already lost this argument. Instead she bowed her head, and said simply ‘Thank you, your honour’.
Stonewall’s gaze shifted to Persephone, standing by Morag’s side. ‘Your name is Persephone, is it not?’
‘Yes, your honour’. Replied Persephone, shyly.
‘I admired your little speech about your father. He was my enemy, but he was a good and noble man’. He hesitated a moment, and then, unexpectedly, smiled. It reminded Morag of a crevasse suddenly opening up in a stone wall. He hesitated again, and then said abruptly, ‘Come to our house for supper tomorrow at eight, Persephone. My son, Jevo, will collect you in a chariot, and bring you back again’. He turned around in a flurry of robes and strode to the door at the back of the courtroom, from which he had appeared.
‘Does that mean I can see Jevo again?’ Persephone asked, plaintively.
‘I think it does’. Morag said. smiling as the young girl’s face lit up with joy.
‘Oh, I must go and prepare myself for tomorrow night!’ She broke away and ran up the stairs in excitement. Morag and Demos grinned at each other, happy at the young girl’s obvious pleasure. ‘We, too, have something to look forward to’. said Ragimund, warmly. ‘Have you forgotten our forthcoming weddings so soon, Morag?’ Simon and she had joined their little group.
‘No, I haven’t forgotten’. Morag said uneasily, aware that she had, after the events of the day.
‘Simon and I have found a date. The first of June this year. It is the first day of Spring in the faery calendar’.
‘That soon! Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so rude, but after today, I find it difficult to concentrate on anything more pleasurable’.
‘But you must!’ Ragimund interjected, hotly. ‘Forget that vile creature. He was punished, according to our law! Think rather on that you set an innocent man free! And the joy he experienced on being reunited with his loved ones! Think on that, Morag, rather than on his evils’.
‘I suppose you’re right’. Morag said, reluctantly. ‘Demos, We’d better get that microscope back to the office’.
‘I can do that’. Demos said quickly.
‘No, we’ll do it together. Let’s start as we mean to go on’.
‘All right, Morag’.
They went down the stairs together to fetch the microscope.
Frank Jackson – 30/ 12/2014 – Word count 11562.