The courtroom was busier than any of the previous days. Word had gotten out that Jeffrey's trial was ending today, and the mob that had largely abandoned the proceedings came back again, loitering on Pagan's front steps. I feel for them - the storm hit last night, and though there was no rain the hot winds ever since have been distinctly unpleasant.
Once the spectators settled and everyone was in their seats, Pagan called the trial to order with a few loud bangs of the gavel.
"Before we proceed," he began, clearing his throat, "I have something I'd like to say. Ever since I was asked to rule over this court, I suspected that the trial of Jeffrey would turn out to be an unmitigated disaster. A mess of laws, a mess of contradictions, and a mess of clamouring voices. In short, injustice."
"But I have been surprised." Pagan smiled one of his rare sincere smiles. "While I doubt that the process or testimony provided would satisfy practiced judges and lawyers in, say, the Imperium, we have done exceedingly well for the Indy Plains. Most kingdoms or townships would use the same snap judgements of which you accuse King Jeffrey to bring their criminals low, justly or otherwise. For this, Pubton, I congratulate you."
He clapped. A little confused, but nevertheless proud, most people in the court joined him.
Pagan tapped his gavel when he'd had enough. "We will now proceed. Before we read the verdict, I think it fitting that Jeffrey be allowed a few words. Would you care to speak, Jeffrey?"
Jeffrey, clamped into his chair, looked at the empty seat beside him. "Is… is that advisable, now that my lawyer has fled?"
"I don't think it much matters." Pagan shrugged. "I hope he was not promised much by your wife. He did very little of substance to defend you. At any rate, you may speak - or not, as you see fit."
Jeffrey mulled it over. "Could you turn me around so I'm facing the benches?"
Pagan motioned to his slave bailiffs. They picked up Jeffrey's chair and placed him in the no-man's-land in front of Pagan's desk, looking out over the ex-king's former subjects.
He took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry." Jeffrey's chin dropped, but he refused to look away from the assembled, silent crowd. "All of you, I'm sorry. I… well, I… no. That's stupid. No excuses. I'm just sorry."
Silence. Everyone watching, no one talking.
"Is that all?" Pagan asked.
Jeffrey nodded. The bailiffs put him back in his place, facing the judge.
"Well. A little anti-climactic, but poignant enough." Pagan looked to the jury. "You have a verdict on the charges assembled against this man?"
I gripped Eve's hand a little too tightly at the word 'verdict'. She took the pain without comment, or even a flinch, but I apologized anyway.
"We do, your honour." I expected the Weekendist to do the deed, but it was Celine who stood up, a roll of paper in her hands. She looked no more perturbed than if she'd been asked to read the day's specials at a restaurant.
"In the case of King Jeffrey, we, the jury…"
The watchers, the judge, the prosecutor, me, my daughter, the hall itself, all of us stretched forward to hear Celine's words.
I recognized at once that it wasn't nervousness, or not a nervousness I could ever identify. Celine was frozen in place, stock-still, her head tipped back and one of her ears in the air. She looked... confused.
One of the other jurors, the ragged bard, stood to take the paper from her. "Here, here, I got it, don't worry -"
Celine brushed him away. "No, no. Can't you hear it?"
Pagan grunted. "This is highly inappropriate, Ms. the Ninja. Please read the sentence, or let someone else do it."
Celine shushed Pagan and waved him away. As his face turned bright red, she cupped a hand to her ear.
"I think it's uh-oh time," she said, pursing her lips.
That's when the sound floated through one of the windows for the rest of us to hear, carried on a stormy breeze.
I mentioned, maybe a week ago, that we've set up a perimeter defence around Pubton. We've used it before, to great effect: a long network of bells, run through the forests. They're meant to alert us when something is coming. We should not be able to hear the bells in the forest from the court.
What we can hear is a much larger bell. There are several of them, spread around town. The guards ring them when something is wrong and the whole town needs to know about it. They were installed maybe three weeks ago, and aside from periodic tests, we haven't had to use them.
I rose out of my seat on the second floor. Eve and Edmund rose with me. So, too, did most of the courtroom, as the sound of the brass bell… the brass bells… got louder, and louder, and louder.
"Son of a bitch." Pagan slammed the gavel against his desk so hard that the head flew off the handle. He threw his wig away. "Of course it would happen now. TO ARMS, YOU SLUGS! WE HAVE GUESTS!"
And so we do. Pubton is under attack.