The Trial

by Oberon Snowcat

It had been just over a week since I had come back to the keep with a hole in my chest, but now finally Brian Coe, the healer had cleared me for action once more; however I first had to take care of that dumb trial that I was required to attend.

I wondered why things couldn’t be more like my homeland where justice was swift and brutal; there was a strong level of deterrent in the system of justice in the Clanlands. The result of which was a relatively low crime rate.

Things here though were different, with some trial in front of the local lord, in this case Duke Thomas Hassan V of the Metamor Valley and hereditary King of the Northern Midlands, though that title no longer really meant all that much since those territories had long since passed beyond the control of the Dukes of Metamor Keep.

This morning I slowly and carefully got dressed and groomed, I wanted to be sure that I looked my best if I was going to be standing in front of the whole court of the Duke. I had been trained by my father how to act when in formal situations, mind you in those situations I had been the one sitting beside him in the high chair, and now I was nought but a witness in a trial.

I carefully went through my clothes, taking out a velvet black and red kilt, a gold trimmed leather vest, my second most elaborate sword-belt which featured gold threading, and a black velvet cloak with a red lining. When I finished dressing, I carefully attached several weapons to my belt.

The Claw of the Dragon, one of my short-swords, a dagger, and three of my throwing knives, though they were concealed behind my back.

Almost as soon as I finished getting dressed, and properly groomed for the day ahead of me there was a knock on the door. When I opened it I found myself looking down at George, the patrol master.

“What are you doing here George?” I asked him.

He looked up at me and waggled one ear before he replied “I was coming to get you and make sure that you’re ready for the trial today. It’s only a few hours away.”

"I'm as ready for it as I will ever be. The whole reason for this sort thing sort of escapes me. Back home if we had two witnesses who were warriors then the person would be assumed to be guilty and executed on the spot."

"Well justice here is a bit more open and fair. Everyone gets a chance to defend their actions. The Duke himself will decide what fate for that fanatic."

"What about these," I indicated my belt, which had my most discrete collection of weapons hung on it ", last time I was any where near the Duke, other than during the festival I was tossed out of the room my that oversized crocodile that he uses as his steward and a pair of guards. I will not enter that room unarmed. To do so would be a supreme dishonour that even I cannot face."

"You cannot carry an entire armoury, but I will speak to the Thomas and get you special permission. With that fanatic I'll feel better with you being armed."

I brought my fist up over my heart and bowed my head to George in respect before I thanked him "Thank You George I will make sure that there is no reason for your trust to be questioned."

He stepped into my apartment and looked around taking notice of the desk with the clock that I had bought from Misha, and the papers that were lying on the desk. He picked one up and then placed it back down again before he noticed the open door to my forge room. "A forge! What type of smith are you?"

I laughed slowly at his question before I replied "I'm a Kelmar Bladelord of the Bronze; that means that I am both a Blademaster of the Gold and a Swordmaster of the Black. As such I am a 1st level master weapon-smith, and a 3rd level master warrior."

"A weaponsmith. Good. We need weapons here at the keep. Can you make us some?"

"The weapons that I make take quite a while to create George and they also take a lot of personal sacrifice. I went over and picked up a long-sword in its scabbard and handed it to him.

He looked at the weapon and then drew the blade form the scabbard noticing the Kelmar watermarks on the blade. “I’ve noticed that all of your weapons have these marks on them, is that something that is unique to your weapons?”

I nodded before I replied “It is something that I’ve only seen in one other culture’s weapons and they’ve only managed to figure out how to get one edge to have these tempering marks on their blades, not both edges.”

He nodded slowly "Special weapons" George said. "Nothing for the common soldiers? how long does it take to such a weapon?"

"That sword in your hand took me more than two and a half weeks, though there have been cases were I have created swords that have taken more than a month to make."

"You surprise me Oberon, a rare thing at my age. I might have a special job for you once this trial is over."

"Well it might cost you a bit Sir if you want me to make weapons, but lets get moving, I doubt that Malisa Hassan would be very happy if we were late."

"Are you ready for this trial?" George asked me. "We need you to remain calm and steady."

"I am as calm as I've always been." I said over my shoulder as I left the room and held the door of my apartment open for him.

He quickly followed me out into the hall where he took the lead, because he knew the way to the court hall where this trial was to take place.

When we finally arrived at the hall two of the guards to the hall crossed their spears in front of us and said

“You cannot pass as you currently are under arms.”

I looked over at George who shook his head and said to the guard “He has my permission." George said. "I will vouch for his actions."

With those words the guards step back and we enter the chambers.

The chamber that we stepped into was of a good size. At the far end sat the Duke in a large throne-like chair. Next to the Duke’s chair there was another chair that was smaller and less ornate. Between the Duke and where we stood were three rows of benches split into left and right sides with an aisle down the center. A deep red cloth covered the floor.

A court officer noticed the two of us and beckoned us forward to join the gallery where we were to wait until we were called upon to fulfil our separate roles in the trial.

"So what function are we going to be fulfilling here George?"

"Witnesses," the jackal explained. "When the time comes you will be asked to tell what you saw and did."

"You mean the two separate events when I encountered that idiot."

"Yes. Just take your time and tell all that you remember," George explained. "This Duke is a fair man, I mean stallion."

"I certainly hope that he gives this fanatic what is coming to him."

George gave a short yip of amusement. "You can be sure of that."

I grumbled slightly as I sat down, adjusting the position of my swords and tail before I sat down in the chair that had been provided, it gave a rather alarming squeak in protest before quietening down. "I guess this is going to take most of the day."

"Oberon, it is liable to take several days. Thomas takes dispensing justice VERY seriously and is in no hurry."

"Ouch! I hope that there will be time for me to take to train, I don't look forward to sitting in this chair for the next week."

"Misha is right. You need to relax and move at a slower pace," George said. "You might find it interesting to see how the Duke handles things. Show what type of person he is."

"I'm sorry but I prefer to be out where the action is."

"For the next day or so THIS is where the action is. A good warrior knows how to handle himself without resorting to fighting."

"It's been a long time, and trust me, a Kelmar trial never takes more than a day."

"Is a Kelmar trial more then just chopping off of a persons head?"

"Yes you have to have a witness to the crime who is a warrior, or rather a pair of warriors, if not the charges could be thrown out for lack of merit."

"And what of this fanatic? He thinks he is doing what is right. He believes that we are the evil that needs to be destroyed. To him he is committing no crime.

"That is different, he openly attacked a group of warriors, and at that point he is fighting against his clan and his overlord, which is one of the worst crimes that a Warrior can commit."

"I know places in the Midlands where many people think like he does. He would be considered a hero!"

“There are people that think rebelling against their overlord is the right thing to do!!” I said in a voice that clearly showed my disgust at the thought of betraying one’s overlord. The only reason I thought differently myself was because I had been in a position where I owed no one my allegiance.

“What if that Overlord is a murderous tyrant?” George Countered. “A monster murders just for the pleasure of it, do you follow his evil or rebel?” I nodded my head slowly because the jackal had a point. That was probably one reason why the situation in my homeland had gotten on of control.

Just as I was about to tell George as much the crocodile steward stood up and boomed “All rise, this court of Metamor Keep is now in session under the benevolent rule of His Majesty the King of the Northern Midlands, and Duke of Metamor Keep Thomas Hassan V and his Prime Minister Lady Mallisa Hassan. This court has been convened to decide the guilt or innocence of one Sir Guy DeHarancourt.”

I turned to George “What’s that all about?” I asked the battered jackal morph.

“Legal trials here are very formal affairs, almost to the point of being a ritual. George explained. “As such they follow a set pattern.”

“Be seated the Duke Thomas intoned before he sat down in his throne. Beside him there was a lithe young woman who looked to him and smiled a little.

“Where did this pattern come from?”

George shrugged his shoulders “Probably from the Seuilman Empire. A lot of the laws and government have carried over from them to this day.”

I shook my head slowly before I remarked “Well in that case I guess that we’re really not quite as different as it may seem, my people’s laws also hark back from antiquity. In our case our laws came from the days of the Kelmar Empire just over three thousand years ago. That empire must’ve been a shining light of civilization and justice for you to take your inspirations from it.”

“No it wasn’t...not when the emperor himself was the biggest criminal. Most of the people who wound up in his courts were simply people that he disliked.”

I spluttered at the thought of the Emperor being a criminal, the last Emperor of the Kelmar had been an upstanding warrior of the finest quality; the problem was the fact that he had borne, with his three wives, ten sons who he had each given one of the treasures of the Empire. Each of those sons had desired the throne and to attain that throne they formed a clan of their most trusted followers to seize it. The end result was beginning of the Clan Wars and the formation of the Ten Great Clans that had dominated the wars. Finally I got myself under control enough to explain that to George.

He shook his head before he softly said “Most of the emperors were good honest men but into every good family there comes bad seeds, people who spoil the entire group.”

I nodded “In my people’s case you could say that there were ten bad seeds who each wanted to rule the Empire, though it was their father who sowed those seeds.”

“Don’t you mean one bad seed instead of ten?” George answered. “Just one ruthless one who is willing to kill the other nine.”

“Not really George. Each of the ten sons possessed a weapon like this one here, “I put my hand on the ruby on the pommel of the Claw of the Dragon “, so they were all evenly matched in power.”

At that point the Duke said “Prosecutor can you please read the charges.”

George shook his head “What good is a weapon like that if they put poison in your food? Or they take you in the dark when you’re asleep?”

“You obviously haven’t been to my homeland. At that time in our history assassination and poisoning had yet to appear, they were developments of the Clan Wars, so each of the heirs to the Empire had no real fear of unconventional death.”

A young woman who was sitting behind a table in front of the thrones stood up and read out the charges, which were scribed onto a piece of paper.

“The defendant, Sir Guy DeHarancourt of the Holy Order of the Protectors is charged with disturbing the King’s Peace, attacking caravans on the King’s Highway, Murder, being a highwayman, and rebellion against the crown.”

The duke nodded slowly before he turned and asked

“How does the defendant plead?”

The lawyer who was representing the fanatic knight, a smooth looking snake morph, stood up and said.“My client has decided to plead...”

At that moment the crazed fanatic, who was sitting in a sort of chair with wheels shouted. “This court has no authority over me, I answer to one judge and one judge alone and that is Eli, may his blessings rain down on those who are righteous.”

“Quiet in the court,” a guard ordered “, Let the lawyer speak.”

“I have been brought to this nest of demons to cleanse it of evil and let those who are truly righteous take their place. You who Eli has rejected are below my notice. I...”

The guard walked up to the fanatic as he spouted his garbage and physically restrained him while the defence lawyer finished what he had started to say before he was interrupted by his client.

“As I was saying before my client has decided to plead Not Guilty to the charges specified.”

George shook his head before he muttered “This trial is going to be really short if he keeps spouting crap like that.”

“We should just let this idiot convict himself of these charges. That way we don’t waste any of our time.” I softly replied.

At that moment Thomas nodded his head and then said, “Understood. Is the prosecution ready?” The woman who had addressed the court earlier as the prosecutor stood up and replied

“We of the prosecution are seeking to demonstrate that the defendant is guilty of these charges and to prove that he did actively seek to undermine your rule Sire.”

“Call your first witness.” The Duke ordered the prosecutor.

“As the first witness we the prosecution call Sir Edmund Delacote of the Holy Order of the Protector.” The woman called out. I looked across the aisle to where the knight was sitting. He stood up and slowly made his way to the front of the court where he calmly sat down in a chair that had been provided. In a soft voice he finally said

“I am Sir Delacote.”

“Sir Delacote can you tell this court about the Order of Knights that you and Sir DeHarancourt are members of.”

“Ours is an Order of protectors. We protect the innocent and the helpless from harm and fight evil where ever it appears.”

“Then how would you explain the actions of Sir DeHarancourt?”

“Evil! It is the very thing that we knights are sworn to fight against!”

“Are you trying to tell this court that this man,” She indicated the fanatic with a hand “, is a renegade of your Order?”

“He is no longer a member of the order,” the cheetah answered. “I have sent word to the Headmaster. Sir DeHarancourt will be cast out from the order as soon as the Headmaster gets notice of these events.”

“So this is the first time that something like this has happened?”

“I’m deeply sorry to say that this isn’t the first time, but we are trying our hardest to prevent a repeat of these events here and all across the known lands.”

“I see, Sir Delacote. So what you are telling this court is that Sir DeHarancourt is simply one misguided soul in your Order, and not the norm.”

“Yes. A vicious, deluded fool and a cold brutal killer with no conscience.”

“So you believe that there is nothing that you think that can redeem this man?” The cheetah shrugged

“No one is beyond redemption but he can no longer stay in the order. He has violated every vow that he’s taken as a paladin of the order.”

The prosecutor nodded “Sir Delacote how often have crimes been committed in the name of the order?”

“All too frequently, but the order does take care of its own, a renegade like Sir DeHarancourt would usually be punished by the order.”

“Are you telling this court that you will have this man removed from the King’s Justice in order to have him face your own version of justice?”

“If he was anywhere else he would, and it would be shorter and harsher. He would go before the Headmaster.”

“Well in the past most kings are short on justice and honesty, but Duke Thomas has shown me that he is different.”

“Ok and what about the victims of this man, will they be able to rest after he receives his justice from your Headmaster?” Sir Delacote looked down at the defendant before he slowly said

“What can we do for the dead? Other than say a prayer and be sure that no one else suffers from his evil.”

Both the Duke and the prosecutor nodded before she said “Thank you Edmund. You are dismissed.” The cheetah slowly stood up and returned to his seat. The prosecutor looks at a sheet of paper in front of her and says

“As our next witness the prosecution calls Adòn Naharél.”

I looked over at George and then said to him, “I guess I have to go up there now, I wasn’t expecting this to be so quick.”, before I stood up.

“Be careful and stay calm.” George commented. I turned my head and nodded to him before I made my way to the chair that Sir Edmund Delacote had so recently vacated, and took my place, being careful to adjust the items on my belt so that they would hang properly and not get caught up in the chair.

“Adon,” the lawyer starts. “Tell this court how you first met the defendant.”

“It happened roughly a month and a half ago when I was serving as a guard on a caravan that was making its way up the King’s Highway towards the Keep. The caravan was ambushed by troops under the defendant’s command. During that engagement he offered a bounty on my head because I was the greatest threat to his operation. I was in charge of the caravan guards, as well as being the most skilled of the guards present. During the ensuing fight I was knocked senseless and brought here to the keep for care.”

“Did you get a good look at your attackers?”

“As far as I could tell they were pretty normal for highwaymen, though I did see the defendant, and hear his voice; I never forget a face or a voice. In general I would say that his highwaymen exhibited little real skill, and poor equipment, it was only through luck that they managed to hit me in the head.”

“I see. And did you ever meet these bandits again?”

“Yes I ran into them when the unit that I was a member of was assigned to escort a caravan out of the valley two days after the Equinox Festival ended. During that engagement the entire band of highwaymen was routed and I myself captured the defendant. When the fight started he shouted ‘Kill the Freaks first.”

“You’re sure he said those words?”

“Yes I am sure!!” I almost shouted my ears going flat against my skull “To question my word is to question my honour.”

This woman was trying to get under my skin, questioning my honour, huh that would earn her a one way trip to trouble if she wasn’t more careful.”

“I am not questioning your honour, but we need to be perfectly clear about what happened.”

I slowly let my ears back up before I replied “I am being as clear as I possibly can about what I saw, heard, and took part in.” She nodded

“I understand but this is a man’s fate and we need to be sure of the facts.”

I nodded slowly once more. “Very well you may continue, but please try not to question my honour again. I am a Kelmar Warrior and I don’t appreciate someone questioning my honour.”

“I understand. Your honour means never lying or deliberately doing something deceptive. Is that correct?”

“That is correct ma’am prosecutor I will never lie or cheat even if it brings me to the gates of death.”

“Good. We are all here for the truth and to see that justice is served.”

I nodded my head before I said, “You may continue your questioning.”

“Would you describe how the defendant was apprehended?”

“Ma’am you have to understand that my memory of the capture of Sir DeHarancourt is a little foggy, I was under the influence of a condition that my people call the Blood Rage. However, I can recall that I fenced with the defendant before I broke both of his legs and both of his collarbones.”

“Blood Rage? Is that like a berserker rage? Can you please tell us what you do remember and please be precise?”

“Well I can vaguely recall making my way through the forces under the command of the defendant, the results of which are never pretty especially when one is under the sway of the blood rage, before I faced the defendant. He was wearing a talbard bearing the mark of the Order of the Protector and wielding a two handed Great-Sword. We fenced for a few moments before I incapacitated him, after that I had to move away from him before I myself passed out due to fatigue resulting from my use of the Blood Rage.”

“I understand. The person that you fought on that day, do you see him in this courtroom now? If you do please point him out.”

I nodded my head and then pointed my right index finger at the defendant, to emphasize the point I extended the two inch long claw on that finger as I pointed.

She nodded “Good, even in a blood rage you were clearly able to remember the defendant.”

“That was right at the end of my blood rage, otherwise all that I would remember would be a red haze and we probably wouldn’t be here right now.”

“After the rage left you what happened?” She asked

“As I stated earlier I passed out from fatigue. The blood rage drains a warrior’s resources, both physical and mental; as a result he needs time afterwards to recover. When I eventually woke up I gorged myself on meat before I went back to sleep.”

At that point Duke Thomas stood up “It is almost noon hour. We will break for lunch and return when the bell strikes two. Any objections?”

I shook my head and then waited while the Duke, who also the King, left the room before I walked over to join George as he made his way out of the room.

“George do you know where there’s a good place to eat, other than one of the local mess halls?”

“Why not my office,” George asked me “, rank does have its privileges.”

“As long as the menu includes meat I’ll be glad to join you sir, I’m as close to a pure carnivore as you can get in this place.”

George laughed before he replied “I’m the Master of the Scouts. I make my own menu.” He continued to laugh as he made his way out of the courtroom with me at his side.

I smiled a little ruefully at his last comment before I interjected “That is true sir you are the master of the scouts. By the way the only thing that can make my diet more interesting is seasoning my meat, hell I can barely stomach cooked meat!”

“Well that comes with your new form. A tiger is a carnivore, but you can eat other things besides meat. However, I’ll make sure that there is plenty of meat for both of us.”

“I have tried a few things, on my first day in this form I tried a whole bunch of things, and the results weren’t pleasant.”

“It takes some getting used to. You have a new body with new wants and needs.”

When we reached his office he directed me to sit in a chair opposite his own and rang a small bell to summon a servant.

When she reached the room he turned to her and ordered “Lunch for two Sally. Lots of beef, very rare for the tiger.”

“Are your trials always like this Sir?” I asked him after the servant left the room.”

George shrugged his shoulders “Oh, what about your prosecutors, are they always this inconsiderate of the rank of those who they are questioning?”

“They have to be complete. A man’s life is at stake and they cannot miss any details.”

“Well there was a point where she was on the verge of insulting my honour.”

“Don’t take it too personally. She just had to be sure of the truth of your statements. She meant no dishonour.”

I nodded my head just as the servant came back into the room with two plates stacked high with large slabs of meat.

Once she placed the plates on the desk in front of us I unsheathed my by-knife from its place in the same scabbard as the Claw and picked up a slab of meat from my plate. When I finished the piece of meat I looked up and asked George “You have anything to drink in this office.”

George nodded and then stood, opened a cabinet, and removed a bottle of wine and two shallow bowls before placing them on the desk. “I ALWAYS have wine on hand.”

“Let’s hope that it agrees with my body.”

“It’s a mild wine Oberon. We have to stay sober for the afternoon segment of the trial.”

I nodded my head as he poured the red fluid into my bowl. As I brought it up to my muzzle I wrinkled my lip to bring the odour past a small organ in the roof of my mouth. The vintage was rather good, though it wasn't all that strong. I lapped up some of the wine and savoured the flavour before I cut off a new piece of meat and began to eat "That's good wine Sir."

"It's from the Southlands." George explained. "I have it brought here along with a few other bits of luxury.”

“It appears that you enjoy your current position sir.” George smiled revealing a large set of sharp teeth.

"I do but I have earned these privileges."

I smiled in reply displaying my somewhat larger set of teeth before I said "Rank hath some privileges. At least I've always thought it did in the past."

"Here rank must be earned!" George explained. "To gain the Dukes trust you must earn it."

"I guess I will have to do something about that, in my homeland it was my birthright, though on this continent I have gotten used to my position at the bottom of the social ladder. Someday I would like to have a position akin to what I had before back home."

"Well you will have to earn it though but I don't see that as a problem for you. Misha already has his eye on you for his little group."

I felt my ears swivel forward as I looked at him in interest, "He already told me as much a week ago."

George laughed. "That got your attention. You ever hear of the Long Scouts?”

I nodded my head ruefully before I replied "Yes I have personally gotten to know their commander; he was the one that tracked me down when I went out north a day after I changed my form. Since then I've heard that they are the elites of this place from other people in the scouts."

"They are. I've never run into any as good as they are. They are the point of the sound. They do some VERY dangerous tasks. We are considering asking you to join."

"I would consider it a great honour to do so sir."

“Don't get too honoured. You have to earn it first. Misha has some high standards. But I think you pass the tests."

I nodded in respect to him as I finished my final slab of meat before I leaned back in the chair, which squealed in protest to the shifting of my weight. "That was quite tasty, what does your cook use to season this meat?"

"She uses special spices from all over the Midlands. Including some from the Giantdowns." George explained.

“Well whatever she used, it’s a lot better than what they serve in the mess halls. I will have to get my hands on some of these seasonings.”

George laughed. "Rank has its privileges."

“Well at least you can have her tell me where she gets these seasonings so that I can get my own.”

"To be honest I've never asked Samantha where she gets her spices, but I will ask her the next time we talk."

"Thank you sir, I would appreciate it." I looked up around and noted the sword that was hanging by the door. "George is that sword the same old hunk of metal that you were using in Pyralis all those years ago?"

George looked up at the old weapon. "It is. I've grown rather fond of it."

"Would you like a new one, I can make you one of my own swords, at a cost of course."

"A new one? I wouldn't mind a new weapon. Something with a bit more power.”

Since the only weapon that I possessed that George could take a look at was my short-sword, I withdrew it from its scabbard and handed it to him hilt first.

"This is an example of the work that I can do; I can even make a weapon specially customized for you though that would cost you a little more."

George carefully takes the weapon and examines it closely. "Very fine quality work Oberon. I never knew you did such fine work." He said before he turned the weapon around and handed it back to me.

I took the weapon and carefully returned it to its scabbard. “Well I can make one of these style swords for your if you want, though it will take me some time to get the materials together, the iron bars that I had for forging are pretty much all gone, so I have to find a good place to get myself a steady supply of the things. Other than that it shouldn’t be too difficult.”

"I'd prefer another cutlass. I've grown used to handling one. And I do have to live up to my name, George the Cutlass."

"I can make most straight swords, though I don't really have a whole lot of experience making curved blades."

George nodded. "Do what your skill allows." he answers enigmatically. I stood up and asked George

"Can you please stand and hand me that piece of string over there. I need to get good measurements in order for this weapon to be perfectly balanced for you."

George stood up before asking. "I want a sword not a suit of armor. Why do you need measurements?"

I laughed for a moment before I replied "If you want me to make a sword that is perfectly suited for you I will have to make certain measurements, length of your arm, and length of hand and fingers to name a few. Otherwise it would simply be a stock weapon and not one that is designed and forged for you alone."

“Fair enough," George says before holding his arms out so that I could measure him. "Measure me."

I carefully used the piece of string that George had handed me to make all of the measurements and taking them down in a notepad that I kept in my belt pouch. When I was finished with the measurements I said "It will take me roughly three to four weeks before your new sword will be ready, though it might take longer if I'm not able to get a hold of a reliable source of iron. Now about the price, by my reckoning this weapon will be around eighty-five garrets."

George took a small pouch of coins from off of his desk and hands them to me. "Will these do?"

I carefully counted out the coins before I nodded and placed them in my belt pouch "I didn't expect to get through this without haggling. When I bought a clock from Misha during the Equinox Festival he haggled like an old fishwife."

George chuckled. "I'm too old to haggle and I have enough wealth so I don't have to."

"Oh there are times when I enjoy the odd haggle but there are times when I would rather just get down to business."

"I just prefer getting down to business." George explained. "I hate wasting time needlessly."

I sat back down in the chair, which had probably already been abused too much, and it promptly collapsed under my weight.

George peered over his desk at me where I was sitting on the floor amidst the broken chair parts. "That was a good chair Oberon."

"Evidently it just wasn't designed to take the weight of a 337 pound feline though was it?" George laughed.

"Few things are! Don't just sit there on the floor. Grab yourself another chair. I'll have that one replaced tomorrow."

"I think that you should make sure that the next chair you get is made for heavier people."

"I'll have the next one made of stone." he laughed.

I chuckled at his comment as I pulled up another chair and put the pieces of the old one into the bin by the fireplace "At least you don't have to worry about where to get your firewood for a few minutes."

"I burn coal in my fires Oberon. It lasts longer and has a lot less mess." the jackal explained.

"True, I have a different use for coal but it is just as important, speaking of which do you know where I could possibly find a supply of high quality anthracite coal?"

George was quiet for a moment. "That must be imported from the south. But Misha I believe uses it for his metalworking. He will know where to get it."

"Great. Last I heard that fox was out on patrol."

"Why not ask Caroline? She might know. They are engaged to be married."

“I’m not sure, I’ve never met her yet and no one has been able to point her out to me either.” I answered with my trepidation clearly evident in my voice.

"Never met the otter?" he says. "After the trial I'll introduce you to her."

“I would appreciate it sir.” I said, though my tone still indicated a distinct lack of enthusiasm, even to me.

"Something wrong with meeting her? Caroline is a good friend."

"I don't know, it’s just that I've already run into enough people here and made enough of a fool of myself in front of them at one time or another. I mean look at Kent or Jonah they had to carry me to Glen Avery after I got hit by the lutin mage, I should've been able to smell him before he managed to attack me."

"Oberon the Keep is packed full of people. You can't avoid them forever. You are trapped here at the Keep so get used to meeting people. And you were attacked by a mage. That was not your fault."

“None the less I still lost face in front of people who were relying on me to eliminate those kind of threats.”

George shook his head. "These lutins have no honour. You'd best remember that. Never let your honour get in the way of saving your friends lives."

"I understand." I commented as I finished my last bowl of wine and stood up once more to stretch out and yawn, displaying my impressive set of teeth for the jackal to see in all of their brutal glory.

"My what big teeth you have Grandma," George joked quoting an old fairy tale.

I chuckled again once my mouth closed before I asked rhetorically "Don't you just love having the features of a jackal?"

"YES! I have my own sharp teeth. And the jackals hearing and sense of smell is great! Even my sense of taste is increased."

"My own senses improved, though my sense of taste took a hit. The most improved are my ears, and my eyes, though my sense of smell is still much better than it was when I was a human. My body also came with a few features that aren't something that any human would be used to."

To demonstrate that point I held up my right hand and extended all of my two inch long finger claws. "But are the advantages worth the permanent exile to this region?"

"Yes. Unlike you, I had a choice. I chose to come here and let the curse take me. I came here to spend the rest of my life and I've never regretted it."

I slowly nodded my head and then told George that we should get back to the courtroom where the trial would be recommencing in a couple of minutes.

George sighed. "Unfortunately we do need to get back to the trial."

The rest of the afternoon was spent in absolute boredom as the trial droned on. This trial was a lesson in boredom. There was actually one point where I dropped off; George was so pleasant as to nudge me in the ribs to wake me up. In fact the next few days followed that pattern until the morning of the fourth day of the trial

I awoke to a loud knocking on my door. I shook my head to clear the sleep from my senses before I got out of bed. When I opened the door I had nothing but my thick black and white fur on, not it bothered me at all my fur concealed everything that I would want to hide from public view. Standing on the other side of the door was on of the castle messengers.

“Sir I have been requested to inform you to go to the dungeons as soon as possible something has come up.”

“I understand” I told the messenger before I closed the door and quickly got dressed. Whatever this was about it was obviously very important and it probably had something to do with the trial that was taking place right now.

When I go down to the dungeons I heard a sound that was the sort which could rend a man’s heart, that is if he or she still had one, it was the sound of a child crying. A few moments later I was standing in front of one of the cells where the sounds were coming from. One of the guards looked up at me and then said

“It was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“What do you mean?”

“That fanatic knight Sir Guy DeHarancourt has come under the influence of the curse. This is his new form.” Inside the cell there was a small form curled up in a ball letting loose piteous cries that sounded nothing like the knight that I had seen for the past few days in the courtroom.

After looking at the gray furred form in the corner for a few more minutes I gave the guards a signal and said, “If you don’t mind I’m going to go take a look at the prisoner, and no you don’t have to worry about him hurting me, I’m easily capable of defending myself.”

The two guards looked at each before the first one opened the door and let me into the cell. I crouched down when I reached the small gray form and put my hand on its shoulder. He turned his face up to look at me and I was shocked at what I saw, it was a wildcat kitten morph. The only thing that I could see in his large golden slit pupil eyes was fear and a lack of understanding. He held up his arms in a childish gesture of pleading and I didn’t feel all that bad about abiding by his request.

As I held him in my arms he asked me “Why is happening me?”

That really shook my confidence. When I looked into his eyes I couldn’t see any of the hatred or malice that had existed in his eyes previously. This really disturbed me, this was one thing that I didn’t expect, usually a criminal couldn’t get any sympathy but now I really wasn’t sure. I just hoped that this problem could be solved in a humane manner. This trial had just gotten a whole lot more complicated.

Ten minutes later I got back to my room and knelt on the floor where I slowly sat down on the floor and began to pray to Savnator for guidance. I hope that she could give me the guidance that I needed now and in the future.

The next morning everyone assembled in the courtroom where the fate of the former knight Sir Guy DeHarancourt was to be decided.

As I sat down beside George he looked into my eyes and asked me "What are you thinking? You look pretty upset."

"I really don't know about this George, I find it hard to consider harming him now, especially after I saw him yesterday. There was no hate or malice left in him, at least there didn't appear to be any."

George shrugged. "The curse can do some really strange things to a person. He might be a total innocent child again."

I looked at George carefully before I managed reply “That is what I’m so concerned about, what if he is as innocent as any other child and not a mindless fanatic like he was before?”

"He might be faking it but I doubt it. It seems the curse has seen fit to give the fanatic a new chance at life."

“Who will care for him now if he survives this trial?”

George scratched at his left ear before he finally answered “Hmmm - I'm tempted to say Father Hough or perhaps a couple with no children?”

“Father Hough?”

"Father Hough is the local Follower priest here. A good and honest man, I'd trust him with my life."

"Follower, I've had some bad run ins with them. They don't seem to understand that I have my own faith and my own gods."

George nods. "I know but this priest is a fair and opened minded person."

“To tell you the truth I’ve even had some of those Lothanasi Priests chasing me around because of my faith.”

"The Lightbringers and the Followers get along pretty well here. Each leaves the others alone and in peace."

“The question is will they leave me alone to my own faith and beliefs?”

"Yes they will, as long as you leave them alone."

“I certainly don’t intend to start a religious war if that is what you mean. All I want from them is the freedom to worship my gods without any interference from them.”

"As long as you keep the peace there will be no problems."

I nodded and then turned and watched as the Duke ascended to his throne where he was about to read his verdict considering the case "I hope that the child isn't punished too heavily." I commented to George.

George shook his head. "I doubt it. Thomas is a fair man."

The duke looked down at his papers before he finally said "I thought the decision on what to do with the criminal was mine but it seems the curse has made the choice for me. I cannot in good conscience have this young kitten killed."

I signed in relief before I asked George “So what do you think will happen to him?”

"But what to do with him? He needs help and guidance to grow up - hopefully this time to be a better person."

"Will he be able to grow up though?"

"Not physically but emotionally he can grow up and become a more responsible person."

"I hope so" I replied before a man, or rather a small boy stood up and said

"I will care for him. There is always room in the Keep and our hearts to help the helpless."

Thomas nodded his head. "I’ll honour that request Father and remand the new kitten into your care."

I smiled and then looked over at George before I said quietly "Sung koshodra bai rtan hdran."

"What does that mean?" the canine asked me in confusion.

I grinned slowly before I answered "The helpless you will defend. It’s an old Kelmar proverb that most warriors live by."

George smiled and stood up before he said “That’s something that everyone should live by.” Before he turned and left the room.

I remained sitting there for a few moments before I headed for my quarters.

I had a lot of things to do including going down to Euper to see if I could find myself a good supply of iron so that I could make the sword that I had sold to George.

Before I took care of that though I had to give a prayer of thanks to Savnator for how she had guided the events of this day.

"The Trial", copyright Oberon Snowcat