“What do I say?” exclaimed the Overlady, “I say, that is your proof!”
She pointed at Lady Firebaugh with a stiff right arm, her other arm tugged along by the iron cuff. “A monster! She knows how many units we have in the field right now. She‘d condemn them all to depop without a second thought, just to make herself a little more secure?”
The prisoner took a step toward the bench, and Jillian tensed in the saddle, not entirely certain she could cross that ground in time to save the King if the captive Overlady made some kind of move. But all she did was keep wailing and accusing.
“I would turn,” Olive pled to the bench. “I would submit myself to you without hesitation! You certainly should know that, Loj– Your Wisdom...”
King Banhammer shifted in his seat, and his expression might have softened a bit. Though at the best of times, Jillian had trouble reading him.
“But I could not do that in good conscience right now. It would cost hundreds of lives!”
Only hundreds? Interesting. And noted.
“She of course has no care for such concerns. The Life axis is beyond her ken. Life only makes bodies, after all. Just husks for her to play with. A life has to end before she can go to work. This woman puts no value whatsoever on an individual‘s life, except as a means to get her a new...decaying, little...plaything!” spat the Florist.
Banhammer looked at Wanda darkly, seeming to give the point some serious consideration. The jurors whispered and murmured a bit. Jillian never listened to caster talk, but she knew that some disciplines were looked down on by others. She gathered that Croakamancy wasn‘t a real popular one.
“That‘s not true,” she found herself saying aloud. Eyes and heads turned her way, and she felt her face flush. “I offer testimony.”
Her father looked at her sternly, not welcoming the interjection, but he nodded. “Testify.”
Jillian adjusted the sword she was resting on the gwiffon‘s neck, and raised her voice. “The Overlady,” she cleared her throat, “um, has that garden outside this city, right? Filled with who knows what.” (Oh, she did know what, and she wanted some.) “But near the City of Haffaton, the Lady Firebaugh has her own garden.”
“A garden? That thing‘s not a–” said Olive, but Banhammer rapped his knuckles in warning.
“It‘s full of carved stones,” said Jillian, turning to the jury. “Monuments. Each one‘s meant to honor a fallen unit. There are a few of them there for Faq, even. There‘s one for Marika.”
She met the piercing eyes of Brother Labeler, who seemed transfixed by the concept she was describing. She swallowed, hoping she could convey what she‘d seen there as Wanda‘s prisoner. “The, uh...Croakamancer created these things to mark the memories of units even after they‘re gone, so they won‘t be forgotten. I thought it was weird, but I think I understand it.”
She turned back and looked at her father, asking him with her eyes to just believe her, for once not to dismiss what she was telling him. “I‘m just saying... You don‘t do something like that unless you do value an individual life. A lot.”
Banhammer looked at Wanda, then placed his thumb over his lips and gazed down upon the stone tiles of the courtyard in thought.
After a while, he looked up.
“The prisoner has declined to turn,” said the King. “So the motion is moot. The prosecutor will now elucidate the charge of patricide.”
Jillian and the Court of Faq sat there, engrossed by the Lady Firebaugh‘s story. In only a few words, she managed to imply whole worlds of heartbreak and intrigue.
“The defendant‘s attempt on her father‘s life was made with poison, of course,” said Wanda. “Slow poison. As the heir to Efbaum, she had unsuccessfully tried to convince him to abdicate his power. Once he‘d acquired the Arkendish, something apparently changed in him. He lost his will to fight. The side suffered and faltered, even as neighboring Haffaton expanded all around it.
“To correct this pacifistic attitude and turn him toward the goal of military conquest, his ‘peaceful‘ Chief Florist daughter first attempted to gain control of his will...” Olive was shaking her head violently at this point, but remained silent. “...using plants she was developing in her garden.”
Wanda turned and stared down the prisoner, who met her with a tight-lipped, defiant glare. “It was medicine,” whispered Olive, sharply. “Healomancy!” Banhammer rapped his knuckles on the bench in a perfunctory warning to her, but he kept his eyes on the Croakamancer.
“Some of it may have been Healomancy,” said Wanda to the jury. “It was also Signamancy, Date-a-mancy, Thinkamancy, and a host of other things. You see, she sought out ways to make Flower Power emulate other disciplines. The Wizard encouraged her to, at first. The Arkendish allowed him to link with her, to advance her discipline. He opened her eyes to new possibilities, and set her on this path. She repaid him by attempting to control him, then displace him. When that failed, she tried to croak him.”
Wanda took the wilted flower from her hair and held it out for the jury to see. “Much of what she began with was benign. Wines, spirits, pipe herbs. Recreational or beneficial materials, intended to facilitate harmony in the ranks. But the accidental side-effects she discovered led her to develop potions, poisons, elixirs to alter the mind and body. She tested them extensively on Efbaum‘s flunkeys.”
Jillian had seen a flunkey or two in battle: winged, hairy units with about the intelligence of a twoll or gobwin. They were nightmarish little jerks, but she kind of cringed at the thought of testing potions and poisons on them. Having spent a lot of time under Olive‘s spells, nobody deserved that.
Wanda placed the flower back in her hair. “Although he succumbed to some of the effects of her magic, the defendant‘s father ultimately resisted her control. So she attempted to croak him instead, giving him poison in place of his usual elixirs. He survived by means of Carnymancy, buying back his life at a terrible cost.
“The defendant then fled and defected to Haffaton, whose Overlord Lex was also under the influence of her Flower Power. The alliance between the sides was broken. She and the Warlady Judy led an army and laid siege to this city, urging the Wizard to surrender. Instead he fled, carried off by Archons who appeared from some distant side.
“Efbaum fell, and the Wizard founded Charlescomm at what he must have felt was a safe distance. Given Haffaton‘s subsequent expansion, that may no longer be true. Later, the defendant croaked Lex, but that is another crime,” said Wanda. “The hericide charge.”
She folded her hands in front of her, and bowed her head. “There are many more details, but I have given the Court the essence of this charge. I will rest now.”
Banhammer nodded to Lady Firebaugh, who withdrew a few steps from the bench. He then turned his head to Olive. “You may speak in your defense, as to the truth or baseness of the charge.”
“It is true,” said the Overlady slowly, “in certain...factual details.”
She turned to face the jury, her face composed and kind again. Jillian recognized that mask, but she didn‘t know if anyone else could see through it. Well...Jack could, probably.
“But her characterizations of those events are entirely false,” said Olive. “What‘s more, she wouldn‘t know. She hadn‘t even been popped when the events she describes took place. Nor was she originally popped to Haffaton. The charges you‘ve heard are hearsay, badly distorted by time and the...personal feelings of those from whom this Croakamancer heard the story.”
She stepped forward, lowered her head in thought for a moment, then knitted her brows. “My father was a beautiful man, before he attuned. Brilliant, cunning, charming...and very wise. But once the Arkendish fell into his hands, he became...terribly afflicted.” She locked eyes with Betsy, the Healomancer. “He was a remarkable Overlord, matching wits with two powerful enemy sides and sending them running home time after time. And after we‘d finally beaten Easteros and Westeregg, he talked of uniting the world. It was his dream. To see Erfworld under a single treaty of alliance, a world that would not fight. That was what he wrote to me, in letters, before Judy and I returned the Arkendish to him.”
“Do you have these letters?” asked Banhammer. “Could you present them to the Court?”
“Yes. In the capital,” said Olive, turning to the bench again. “I haven‘t wanted to look at them for a very long time, but I have them.”
Banhammer nodded, and Jillian narrowed her eyes at him. There was absolutely no way she was going to allow a trip across this whole huge side just for evidence in this joke trial. Her father ignored her, motioning Olive to continue.
“Once he attuned, he changed quickly. Within twenty turns, he was neglecting most of his duties as Ruler. He had an opportunity to expand Efbaum through the lands of our fallen neighbors, but he allowed Haffaton free rein to take all of those cities. He issued no orders.”
“If I might interject,” said Banhammer, “I find that stance somewhat familiar.” Several of the jurors chuckled. “As King, I have no interest in conquest, and send orders to the field only rarely. Perhaps Charlie–the Wizard–was not so much afflicted as enlightened?”
Olive smiled sadly and shook her head. “No, Your Wisdom. It was not like that. He withdrew into himself. He would not be seen by anyone except me, because he had an idea that Flower Power could help him use the Arkendish. He and I would link, and I would cultivate flowers and plants under his guidance. But he was...traveling away, into himself. And he was only seeking Flower Power as a means of traveling farther. He was fond of the hero buds...”
Her face suddenly looked terribly pained.
“I tried to help him!” she said, balling her fists. “I tried to coax him back to his dream of uniting Erfworld. But he said that was the one thing he absolutely did not want now. He couldn‘t tell me what he did want, either. He was slipping away, and I was desperate. I tried to create something without his help, an elixir. It was intended to un-attune him.”
In the corner of Jillian‘s eye, several members of the Court straightened their posture.
“I did give it to him, but it didn‘t work. It broke something in him. It...” She closed her eyes, and a tear escaped her lashes. “I think I made him a monster. I knew he would disband me for it, so I turned to Haffaton. But I still tried to save him. I tried. We marched on el-Efbaum to bring it back into the fold. Lex believed in a world alliance, too. We all saw ruling the world as a means to peace. We all wanted my father to be with us. But he flew away. And...now he is just a mercenary, fighting for nothing but money,” she shot Jillian the barest glance. “I don‘t know him anymore. But I did not try to take his life. That just isn‘t true.”
A long silence ensued, and most eyes made their way from Olive Branch to the tight-lipped, pensive King Banhammer.
“We have heard charges, and testimony,” he said at last. “But little evidence. As the defendant has stated, this charge, at least, is entirely hearsay.” He looked at Wanda, his expression stern but neutral. “Unless you can present some evidence to support your interpretation of these events, then I will be forced to dismiss the charge of attempted patricide. Have you any?”
“Not in this location, Your Wisdom,” said Wanda. “The defendant is lying. And I could provide proof, were we at the City of Haffaton.”
Jillian winced. No, Wanda was not suggesting crossing this whole side too, was she? Was she going to have to refuse another of her father‘s orders? Titans forgive her.
Banhammer frowned. “The circumstances of this trial make it difficult to obtain all the evidence we need to make a judgment. I‘m afraid that we‘ll be forced to dismiss this charge for now. If evidence arises that can be presented to the Court at a later time, then we‘ll re-open the charge.”
“Your Wisdom,” said Lady Firebaugh, “there is one piece of supporting evidence that I could offer here and now.”
The King squinted. “Oh?”
“Yes,” said Wanda. “I move that the Court contact Charlie, and request his testimony.”