Thursday, October 31, 2013

Castles 75

75. In Down’s End Court

            In Down’s End governance centered in a pair of two-storey brick buildings not far from the shore of West Lake.  Given the size and prosperity of Down’s End, Milo would have expected city buildings to be bigger; Stonebridge’s Citadel of the Guard dwarfed these structures.  One building had rooms for sheriffs, cells for prisoners awaiting trial, and two courtrooms for criminal trials.  Between this building and the lake was a small greensward with a whipping post and gibbet.  The second building had a courtroom devoted to property disputes, the mayor’s office, rooms used by aldermen between sessions of the Council, and the actual Council Chamber.  It was to the courtroom in this building that Derian Chapman had been summoned.
            Derian, Milo and Eádulf ate breakfast (not excellent but far better than bacon and beer) early in the morning at the Dog of the Downs.  The Dog was an inexpensive inn with only five guest rooms separated by thin walls.  Its chief virtue was its location near the warehouse on the west side of Down’s End where city sheriffs guarded Derian’s wine at his expense.  Milo told Eádulf to tend to their horses and wait for them in the Dog, then he accompanied Derian to court.
            They entered the City Council building through double doors into a passage running left and right with doors to many other rooms.  After a brief inquiry, a sheriff directed them to the right door.  In the courtroom a low railing divided the court into two parts.  On the near side of the rail were plain wooden benches; on the other side were two long tables with cushioned chairs positioned so their occupants could watch and interrogate people on the benches.  Each table had a clay inkbottle with quills lying close by. The chairs were all empty when Milo and Derian arrived, but a man stood near one of the tables.
            “Fair morning,” said Derian.  “I’m supposed to appear in the city court today.  Am I in the right place?”
            The man turned from a document lying on the table.  He wore a blue tunic and a silver medallion, similar to Talbot Theobald’s; Milo assumed this marked him as another clerk of the court.
            “What is your name?”  The clerk had a prominent Adam’s apple, as noticeable as Eádulf’s.  He was skinny and the sides of his head were shaved, as was his chin, but tall curly hair covered the top of his head; if not for his arms he could have been a carrot pulled from the ground.
            “Derian Chapman.”  Derian had picked a gray tunic for his appearance at court.  With black hose and a plain leather belt, he was trying to project an image of sober-mindedness.  Beside him, Milo was dressed even more conservatively, in a brown tunic only a little finer than a priest’s.  Milo and Derian stopped at the rail and Derian extended his hand to the clerk.  “Fair morning.”
            “Fair morning, Master Chapman.”  The clerk clasped hands with Derian and inclined his head.  “I am Roalt Godfried, clerk for the court.  According to this”—Godfried indicated the paper he had been reading—“you are expected this morning.  But not by the full court or Council, apparently.  Alderman Barnet requires your attendance.  Interesting.”  Godfried’s Adam’s apple worked up and down as he contemplated the document.
            A door opened on the table side of the room.  Two men came in.  The first wore a black robe loosely over a dark green tunic; he was stocky, with a boxer’s arms.  He spotted Derian and Milo immediately; fixing his eyes on them, he quickly took a chair behind the table nearest them.  The second man also wore a black robe, which served as background for a magnificent gold medallion.  He was a jowly man, clean-shaven, with very short white hair.  He sat at the second table and propped his head in his hands.  Milo guessed: The Mayor of Down’s End, I suppose.  But it seems he’s here to watch rather than participate.  The clerk Godfried sat at the stocky man’s table and took up a quill.
            The stocky dark-haired man picked up the paper Roalt Godfried had been examining.  He glared at Milo and Derian.  “Which of you is Chapman?”
            The jowly man whom Milo pegged as mayor interrupted, his voice sounding like a rumble.  “Ah, Eulard, um.”
            The occupant of the near table looked at the mayor for a moment.  Then he said, “Very well.  Fair morning.  I am Alderman Eulard Barnet.  I have agreed to represent Down’s End this morning in a hearing regarding a certain matter.”  Barnet looked at the paper in his hands.  “A complaint registered by a citizen of Down’s End, a teamster named Eni Raegenhere.  Raegenhere’s complaint names a Stonebridge merchant by the name of Derian Chapman.  I presume that one of you is Chapman?”
            “Fair morning, Alderman Barnet.  I am Chapman.”  Derian inclined his head.
            “And your companion?”
            Milo saluted, placing his fist on his chest.  “Sheriff Mortane of the Stonebridge City Guard.  I came along as a friend and extra escort for Derian’s wagons.”
            Barnet pursed his lips.  “A worthy service, Sheriff Mortane.  Since this matter concerns a complaint against your friend, Master Chapman, I will not ask you for testimony, to spare you the difficulty of testifying against him.”
            “That’s too bad.  I might enjoy testifying against Derian.”  Milo grinned at the alderman.
            Barnet frowned.  “I have little appetite for humor this morning, Sheriff Mortane.  You may be seated while I interview Master Chapman.”
            Milo sat.  The man at the second table was rubbing the back of his neck with one hand while his forehead rested on the palm of the other.  He appeared to be massaging a headache, but Milo noticed his eyes.  From beneath bushy white eyebrows the mayor was watching him.
            “What is your business in Down’s End, Master Chapman?”  Barnet spoke quickly, efficiently.
            Derian put his hands on the rail.  “I have brought two wagons of Stonebridge wine.  Naturally, I hope to sell my wine at a profit.  It’s excellent wine; perhaps the alderman could be persuaded to sample some?”
            “I’m afraid not.  You are not permitted to sell any wares until this matter has been resolved.  Master Raegenhere says that his wagon was damaged on the journey.”
            “That’s true, but …”
            “Don’t interrupt, Master Chapman.  The wagon was overloaded, according to this complaint, and that caused the loss.  Raegenhere had to pay fifteen golds out of pocket to repair his wagon.  That hardly seems fair if the loss was caused by excessive weight.”
            The alderman looked up from the document at Derian.  Behind him, a door opened and the clerk Talbot Theobald poked his head into the courtroom.  Seeing the white haired man, Theobald paced silently to the mayor, handed him a note, and bowed out of the room.  Alderman Barnet ignored this interruption, glaring at Derian.
            Derian waited several more seconds.  “Am I to speak now?  I don’t want to interrupt.”
            Barnet’s face went red in anger.  “Don’t play at fool.  Did you overload Raegenhere’s wagon?”
            “I did not.  Raegenhere helped load the wagon, and he never suggested it was too heavy until it got away from him on the Stonebridge summit.”
            “So you say.  Raegenhere says otherwise.”
            “The difference is that I am telling the truth.”
            Barnet let the paper fall to the table.  He stared at Derian.  “You have done business in our city before.  Is that true, Master Chapman?”
            “Aye.  I’ve visited Down’s End many times.  Trade between our cities is a boon to people in both.  Most recently, I came to Down’s End little more than four weeks ago, with samples of Stonebridge wines.  They were well received, and that led to my current venture.”
            Barnet interlaced his fingers and rested his head on them.  He seemed to be considering his next question.  “I believe you were also in Down’s End at the beginning of summer.  Is that right?”
            “Aye.  That time I was moving goods from Down’s End to Stonebridge, two wagons of wool.”
            “No problems on the way?  Axles breaking on the Stonebridge summit, that sort of thing?”
            Derian stroked his hair.  “To tell the truth, we did have trouble, but not with the pass.  You might not believe it, but some brigand tried to set fire to the wool.  Or, at least that’s what I thought.”
            “Please explain.”
            “We were staying at River House, an inn.  The wagons were parked in the road, and the horses had been put in a corral.  Past midnight, someone started shooting fire arrows at the wagons.  Foolishly, I thought he was trying to destroy my cargo.  My friend Milo divined the true nature of the attack.  Everyone else, including me, was running to guard the wool wagons, but Milo ran to the corral, where he caught two youths trying to make off with the draft horses.  The attack on the wagon was a diversion.  The thieves were really after fine draft animals.  After stopping the thieves, Milo rode down the archer with the fire arrows—in the dark, mind you—and killed him.”
            “No damage came to your wool or your wagons?”
            “None.”  Derian smiled ruefully.  “But not through my doing.  Sir Milo deserves the credit.”
            Throughout the interrogation, Milo kept his face blank.  Internally he applauded Derian’s ability to play the innocent.  When Derian praised him he merely looked at the floor.  The man with the gold medallion continued to pay more attention to Milo than Derian. 
            Barnet rested his chin on his nested fingers again.  “Master Chapman, who finances your trade?”
            “Excuse me?”
            “I’m a banker, Master Chapman.  I know how business works in Down’s End, and I suspect it works similarly in Stonebridge.  Who lent you the money to buy wool last summer?”
            Derian smiled sheepishly.  “Actually, I have an advantage there.  I have a rich uncle, and he lends me money.  His name is Ody Dans.  Perhaps you have heard of him.  He’s quite well known.”
            “Indeed.  Many know of Ody Dans.  And he is your uncle?”
            “This means you have visited his palace?”
            The Spray.  Uncle Ody would prefer to call it a house.  But I agree it’s spectacular.”
            “Have you visited your uncle recently?”
            “Aye.  Shortly before we left Stonebridge with the wine I now hope to sell in Down’s End.”
            “While you were there, did you see Avery Doin?”
            “Excuse me?”
            Barnet rose up in his chair, leaning forward on his elbows.  “Don’t play at fool, Master Chapman.  Did you see Avery Doin at your uncle’s house?”
            “It happens that I know Avery Doin.  I met him some months ago while on business in Down’s End.  But the last time I visited my uncle I did so in the company of my friend, Milo Mortane.  We saw uncle Ody on official business as sheriffs of Stonebridge.  We had the unfortunate duty to ask Master Dans to identify the body of a young woman.  While we were there, we saw my uncle, the guard at the door, and one of the servant girls.  That’s all.  I think I would remember Avery if I saw him.  I didn’t.  May I ask a question?”
            Barnet stared at the tabletop.  Finally he waved a hand permissively.
            “Is Avery Doin missing?  Are you looking for him?”
            Contempt and rage contorted Barnet’s face.  Milo marveled at Derian’s ability to maintain glib innocence.  The merchant stood at ease before the bar of Down’s End justice, while the alderman ground his teeth.  Finally Barnet pushed his chair back and stood up.  “Your cargo will be protected by the city until teamster Raegenhere is made whole.”  He snatched up the piece of paper.
            “Fifteen golds?”
            “Not a copper less.”
            “It’s unjust, but I’ll pay Raegenhere today.  May I sell my wine beginning tomorrow?”
            Barnet trembled in anger and could not speak.  The man at the other table, who had not spoken since admonishing the alderman at the beginning, cleared his throat.  “Eulard, I think it would be wise if you sat down.  This matter is more complicated than we thought.”  His finger tapped the paper clerk Theobald had given him.
            Barnet turned on the jowly man.  “Simun, it’s not complicated at all.  They’re harboring the man who murdered my son.”
            The man called Simun waved his hand as if brushing that matter aside.  “Sit down, Eulard.  Roalt, please go out to the hall and bring in the next party.” 
            Alderman Barnet sat.  Clerk Godfried lifted a hidden latch in the rail, which allowed a small portion of it to swing out like a gate.  He passed through the outer court and opened the door through which Milo and Derian had entered the courtroom.
            Two people came in: Kenelm Ash and Milo’s sister, Amicia.

Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved.  International copyright secured.

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