I’ve been the scribe in the Court of Justice of Aiden for fifty years. My eyes might be old, but I can see well enough to the end of the courtroom. My fingers ache not a little on cold winter nights, but I can write as quickly as I did when I was appointed. The Court sits atop the highest elevation in the city, looking down upon the expanse of dwellings and mercantile establishment that constitute Aiden. The Court is one of the reasons Aiden is the most popular trading center for all of Mithos; where it is known that justice will be delivered, business will flow.
Not that I know much of the city any more, my quarters are up here in the Courthouse, and I have a boy to go to the city and fetch what I need to live. What I know is the law, and I have seen more cases in these hallowed chambers than anyone but the Lord Justicaar himself. Dominus Elgus, Lord Justicaar of Aiden for eight hundred years, one of the last remaining members of a dying species, known for its commitment to logic and reason. He has seen Grand Duchesses and Dukes come and go, and passed judgement on a few as well.
But the last four years have been terrible; as the new Grand Duke, Murdock, has subverted ancient traditions and imposed a reign of terror, religious and physical, upon the city. There has been little of justice, indeed, with few cases coming to his lordship at all. He has lamented in sparsely-filled chambers about how his power has been taken away, how his orders are ignored, and how all that once made Aiden great is falling to pieces.
Today, as he comes in, and all those present in the Court rise, my old eyes scan the room in wonder. I have not seen the place so full in all my years here; not once, and certainly not since Murdock has reigned. The seats are full, there are people standing, and the doors cannot be closed for the sheer masses of people pressing upon them. The Bailiffs struggle to quiet them down, and even the normally-unflappable Captain of the Guard, Sir Valora Adno, who is here today, seems a little unnerved. She’s one of the few faces I recognize, not because she has a face that’s particularly memorable, but because she has been in this room so often over the years. I also recognize Wedgrass Selvar, with his stocky frame, powerful arms and memorably-ugly face, who has been here a few times defending himself against charges of unfair business practices, and Lady Mirielle Storna, who had come just a month ago when a distant cousin had contested her parents’ will.
The others are strangers. Not the students and government folk who usually sit here, waiting their turns or making records of the proceedings. It’s the people of Aiden, lords and ladies, merchants and sailors, the common-folk of the city.
The Crown’s Prosecutor motions for the Accused to be brought in. She does not set so much as a foot within the door before I can make some sense of why the Courthouse is so crowded today.
I am seventy-five years old—old, indeed, by Ateneen standards—and I have never considered myself susceptible to temptations of the flesh. I have not had much occasion to be tempted, not really. I have not known the company of a woman since I was in the Academy, and I have not missed it—or so I believed, until now.
Something about her inflames every sense, overwhelming me. Her eyes are a bright blue, the blue of the ocean, her hair is lustrous gold, her face is a portrait of beauty that artists would die to portray and still fail. She wears a gown in black and white—black from shoulder to waist, and white below—that clings to her body like a second skin. Her neck, her ears, her arms, are all adorned in jewels, though none sparkles like those eyes.
She speaks her name when she is asked to, in a voice as clear and beautiful as the sound of the crystal-clear waters of the mountain spring that passed by the village where I grew up. It dispels any lingering doubts I might have had that the crowd is there to see her. It is an ancient name, a royal name, a name that adorns her like a crown, though she wears none—Galvina Chrysos.
The case itself pertains to public lewdness; she is an actress, and it has been alleged that her performance of the role of Gleda in the The Pirate’s Daughter was obscene.
She defends herself with stunning eloquence and displays a knowledge of legal precedent that impresses even me, who have studied every case from the past hundred years. I expect her to take recourse in being Amarian and in the sanctity of Amarian scripture, which has very different standards for obscenity. In Grand Duke Murdock’s Aiden, this will fail, I believe, for he has declared Amarian scripture invalid.
Instead, she puts forth the argument that Gleda needed to be nude in those scenes, she recites the lines from the play, not just her own, to show how Gleda’s nudity, far from being titillating, was meant to shame the audience into introspection, she challenges the notion of nudity itself as being obscene, and of obscenity itself as being a factor in the performance of any artistic medium.
The Lord Justicaar acquits her, agreeing with her second point, that the nudity was not intended to be of a prurient nature. If he had not, I believe the people in the Courthouse today would have lynched him, and me, and the Prosecutor.
I wonder if I will ever see her again. I doubt I will, though my heart earnestly wishes it.
As I await the emptying of the chamber, Lady Storna and the merchant Selvar have wandered near my seat, and the Captain with them.
“That will teach Murdock a lesson,” says the Captain. “He will know better than to try to take on Galvina now.”
“Oh, this wasn’t Murdock,” says Selvar.
“What? Wasn’t the accuser one of his pet ‘guardians of morality’?”
“No, it was one of mine.”
Both the women gape at him.
“Look,” he says, his face grim. “This city is going to have a reckoning soon. Murdock is an evil brute. He would have moved against us eventually. Now, Gibbles—I mean, Galvina—has shown him that she can command a crowd by the sheer power of her presence, that she can fight his stupid battles by the power of her mind. Even without raising her staff, even without casting a single spell, she is more powerful than he.”
“I suppose you have a point…,” says Lady Storna. “But why did you need to do this?”
“It was an experiment,” he goes on. “I have just proved that this city might fear Murdock, but it loves Galvina Chrysos. And when the time is right, that is why she will wear the crown she deserves.”
I clear my throat, and for the first time in four years, I smile.