Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ex Curia

     Kaiser Rudolph Imler sat in the passenger seat of Colonel Dagon’s Iago Comet while 1st Lieutenant Santos drove. The three youths – Archel, Cassie, and Kent – were seated in the bed of the truck with their backs to the toolbox. Santos took the direct route on Gryphus Via 17 (GV17) which connected Markt, Morley, Avalona, and a series of tiny villages to the City of Ambrosia. Two hours after leaving Avalona, at the Kaiser’s behest, Santos pulled off GV17 onto Faith Gryphus Lane, where he took a series of small side streets that ran close to the Templus de Ambros. When they reached Sentinel Cemetery which abutted the southern wall of the temple compound, Santos was instructed to park.
     “Sir, I understand the cloak and dagger stuff. But, I don’t understand why we’re parking here,” Santos said. What he left unsaid was that graveyards creeped him out.
     “Lieutenant, have patience,” Kaiser Imler replied.
     “Yes, my liege,” Santos sighed. Patience was not his strong suit.
     The two men opened their doors to find Cassie, Kent, and Archel already out of the back and standing next to the truck. Each was in the process of rubbing the feeling back into their numb asses. The men couldn’t help but laugh. The trio shot them angry looks, before laughing themselves.     
     “It’ll take about five minutes to reach the Phoenix Rose from here,” Imler said.
     “What?” Kent asked rather loudly. “I can’t hear shit. We had the wind blowing in our ears the whole way. Listen, I know you’re a king and all, but we do that again, either I’m sitting in your lap. Or, you can ride in the back.”
     “Shut up, boyo!” 1st Lieutenant Santos growled. “You don’t talk to the Kaiser that way. Who do you think you are?”
     “If the two of you could knock it off, that’d be great,” Kaiser Imler enjoined, “we are attempting stealth and yelling in a cemetery isn’t exactly going to help our cause. In case you’ve missed it, those,” he pointed to the east of the graveyard, “are houses. In fact, they’re the retirement houses of Mercury’s Elite Guard. Uh, Santos, that’ll be where you end up if you make retirement.” Even though the Kaiser winked, Santos wasn’t sure if the man was joking. He’d heard that the Kaiser had a sense of humor, he just never thought he’d see it up close.
     Kaiser Imler led them through the parking lot and into Sentinel Cemetery. The main track circled left around the closed office and deep into a pine forest dotted with tombstones, mausoleums, and faded tokens of love left for the dead. They didn’t take the track. Instead, they walked through a field of flat gravestones which were partially covered in overgrown crabgrass. A few markers were only recognizable once underfoot. At the back of the cemetery was an old stone wall with a gravestone embedded into it. The Kaiser set his foot in the middle of the stone and pushed with all his might. Before anyone could voice an objection, the stone shifted back an inch.
     “We’re going to scale the wall,” Imler said. “Just to the right is a thick patch of grass that makes for a pretty soft landing. Well, it may still be there. We’ll find out. Who wants to go first?”   
     “I will,” Archel answered.
     “I just want to know how you know about this,” Santos said.
     “I’m willing. But, you really ought to know, my arm is shit,” Kent said. “Which is right on point with my life since my eye is shit, too. Hell, it was hard enough climbing up you, sir. You wouldn’t happen to know of another way in, would you?”
     “I’ll do you one better,” Imler said. “Fulco, find Aeolus. When you do, show Kent the way. Wait here. Or, there are benches down that path. We’ve got to go.”
     Fulco left immediately, by launching off of Kent’s shoulder, leaving the young man cussing, “damn it bird! First you rip my eye out, now you’re tearing my shoulder apart. If you come near me again, so help me Iphigenia! I’ll break your neck!”
     “I can wait here with him,” Cassie volunteered.
     “That’s sweet, but I’ll be fine,” Kent retorted.
     “Fine,” Cassie said angrily as she moved Archel out of the way, grabbed the wall, and climbed over. “That grass is still here. I’ll let you know how soft—” She slipped, landing with a thump on her already sore ass. “It’s still here,” she called out, “I don’t know that I’d call it soft.”
       Archel, Santos, and the Kaiser followed Cassie over the stonewall into the southern portion of the Gryphon Gardens. Once they were over the wall, the Kaiser led the way taking the fastest route he knew through the Gardens to the Phoenix Rose. At the edge of the central garden, Kaiser Imler came to a full stop. Patrick Field was standing over a body that was lying next to the Phoenix Rose. The groundskeeper was examining a pair of gardening sheers. His eyes were wide and his mouth tightly closed. 
     “That’s Mr. Field,” Archel said. “Hey, Mr. Field!”
     The boy started towards the groundskeeper, but was grabbed by Santos, who whispered, “just wait a minute. Something isn’t right.”
     “It’s not what it looks like,” Patrick Field said defensively. “I just found him like this. I swear to Mercury!”
     “Everyone be quiet,” the Kaiser ordered. He crossed the central garden, looked down at the body, and shook his head, “Meranti, you idiot.”
     “Sir, he tried to cut the rose,” Patrick sighed, “no one ever told him we don’t even trim her. He stole the sheers from the storage. I don’t know what he was thinking.”
     “He’s a pawn,” the Kaiser said. “We need to hide him. I don’t want anyone else knowing I’m here or that this happened. Not yet. Someone’s trying to kill the Rose. I plan on finding out who else is involved. Mr. Field, will you help?”
     “I—I guess. I mean, yes, sir.”
     “Archel, help Mr. Field hide Meranti. Stay with him until I send for you. Is that understood?”
     “Yes,” Archel answered.
     “Santos, I need you to get three men you trust to rotate four hour shifts guarding the Phoenix Rose. If anyone approaches her, detain them. If anyone acts suspicious around her, detain them. I’ll question them later. Once you’ve assigned a watch, find Archel and Mr. Field. Cassie and I will meet you tomorrow afternoon. Understood?”
     “Yes, sir!” Santos headed east towards the barracks. He had three men in mind. Fellows he knew owed him and who had the capacity to keep their mouths shut.
     “Cassie, I know you’re still learning your abilities,” the Kaiser smiled as the girl nodded her ascent, “I’ve got a task for you. I’ve heard stories about Mercury’s Bracelet. And, I saw some of what you could do with it back in Avalona. I need to know, can you teleport with it? Are those stories true?”
     At first she didn’t answer, she stared at her king attempting to figure out what he wanted. Finally, she said, “yes. The stories are true. But, I can’t exactly control it.”
     “Come with me,” he said to Cassie before he turned to the groundskeeper, “will you keep this quiet?”
     “Good. Your assistance will not be forgotten,” the Kaiser waved his hand in a triple circle, “let’s say, I’ll owe you one. Come, Cassie, we’ve got work of our own to attend. Tomorrow, Mr. Field.” The Kaiser led the girl down one of the garden paths heading west.
     “It’s Patrick, sir!” the groundskeeper called after his king.
     While they walked, Kaiser Imler asked, “Cassie, how much do you know about your unique role in the kingdom?”
     “Me? Uh, oh. I can’t answer that. I know stories of what other Messengers have done. And, I know what’s happened to me so far. I know that without this bracelet, I would have died in Avalona. And, I know that I’m supposed to carry your messages. But, I don’t know what they are. Say, are you going to tell me now?”
     “In a way, I suppose I am.”
     “Well, I don’t mean to be rude, but…do you want to start with telling me where we’re going?”
     “We need a place to hide for the night, so we’re going to the Heart of the Seven Faeries. My father showed me a lounge under it. More importantly, there are some passages that will get us where we need to be tomorrow. Once we’re out of sight and hearing, I’ll explain everything in better detail.”
      “As long as you’ve got it figured out,” Cassie said as she shrugged.

     The courtroom of the Antigone Courts was moderately decorated in nationalistic symbols, including a picture of the Kaiser, the flag of Poterit Don, and the regional flags. The nine justices were seated in their traditional positions along a semi-circled panel that faced pew benches meant for court attendees. Behind the currently empty pews, was the citizen entrance, over which hung an atomic clock. To the left of the justices was an entrance for criminals, to their right was the door to their private chambers and the hallway which lead back to the main chamber, the antechamber, and eventually the passageways under the Ambrosian Fields. Chief Justice Fraunx Adonis stood at his Overseer’s lectern, monitoring the debates. He wasn’t just bored, his mind was on a certain bit of information he’d gleaned in the recordings obtained from The Inquisitor. Adonis was on autopilot observing the rules of court while envisioning the details of the job he needed done and also keeping an eye on the clock. The debates had already proceeded far longer than he had hoped. If a decision wasn’t reached in the next hour, he’d be forced to call them to recess so that he could keep his appointment with The Inquisitor.
     “Justice Levi Bayleaf,” Adonis said, as he nonchalantly leaned against the Overseer’s lectern, “have you cast your vote on the matter at hand?”
     “Yes, Chief Justice. And, I’d like to go on the record as voicing extreme opposition to the proposal of Justice Mayfield. May I have time to make my voice heard?”
     Adonis looked up at the clock in the back of the courtroom, “Justice Bayleaf, you have three minutes. Make your voice heard.”
     “Thank you, Chief Justice,” Bayleaf said as he stood up from his position on Adonis’ immediate right. “Yesterday, we spent the day in arduous study, seeking precedence for the Antigone Courts to declare war in the absence of the Kaiser. After searching through every law we knew and countless ones we did not, we found nothing. Not one single RQ allows for a declaration of war to be made by the Justices of the Antigone Courts. Let me quote from 325 RQ dash 1A:
     ‘In all matters of War, the reigning Kaiser shall determine the best course of action for Poterit Don. The decision to go to war rests with the Kaiser, who shall base his decision off of three factors: 1) in questions of offensive war, testimony from the Regular Militia’s Regional Generals concerning necessity and preparations; 2) in questions of defensive war, testimony from observers of a direct attack on Poterit Don as well as testimony from the Regular Militia’s Regional Generals concerning proportionate responses and current military capacities to make said response; and, 3) in questions of allegiance war, testimony from an allied diplomat concerning a direct attack on the ally’s land as well as testimony from the Regular Militia’s Regional Generals concerning proportionate responses and current military capacities to make said response.’   
“As you can see, the question before us is related to clause 2 regarding defensive wars which requires testimonies from witnesses and generals. In addition to our missing Kaiser, we are also missing these testimonies. We debate voting for war without having met the minimal requirements asked of the Kaiser when the question of war sits before him. I say unto you, the proposed course of action is not merely a travesty it is a mockery. If we declare war and move to make war, then we have proven that we are not fit to uphold the law. I reserve the remainder of my time for rebuttal.”
     “Justice Bayleaf, your voice has been heard. One and a half minutes remain for rebuttals,” Chief Justice Adonis replied automatically as he rapped his fingers on the side of the lectern. He suppressed a yawn while asking, “are there any other voices of opposition wishing to be heard?”
     “I would also like to voice my opposition,” Justice Moira Thibodeaux said in her nasally west Donian accent. Her salt-and-pepper grey hair was pulled tightly back in a bun effectively thinning her already needle nose face. “How much time do I have?”
     “Justice Thibodeaux, you have three minutes,” Adonis answered. He flicked his fingers and chewed his lip.
     She stood up in her position fourth from Adonis’ left, slapped her hands together and cried out, “WAR!” All the justices, including Adonis, jumped. The mostly demure Justice Thibodeaux, smiled with her mouth, but not her eyes, “I thought that might wake you up. Justice Bayleaf is correct. We should not even be discussing this matter. Let me draw your attention to two laws, first, 1776 RQ dash 5, clause 1. I quote, ‘An underage Kaiser shall make no legal decisions and is required to attend all meetings of his advisory staff and generals.’ And, the second is from the same RQ, clause 2. Again, I quote, ‘In the question of war, when the Kaiser is underage, the advisory staff and generals shall utilize the available data to abide by the laws of Poterit Don.’ Though our Kaiser is missing and not underage, we are directed to heed to the decisions of his advisory staff and generals. Are we the advisors or generals of Poterit Don? No. We are the interpreters of the law. We have no business declaring war,” she glared at Adonis, “nor in leading warriors. I reserve the remainder of my time for rebuttal.”
     “Justice Thibodeaux, your voice has been—” Thrice came the knocking. “Your voice has been heard,” Adonis and the other justices looked at the main entrance. Mercury’s Elite Guardsmen well knew they weren’t to interrupt a closed hearing. “One and a half—” The heavy oak doors squeaked open and by far the shortest of all the Merc’s stepped into the chamber. Adonis slammed his hand against the lectern and shouted, “this is a closed hearing!”
     “Apologies Chief Justice, I knocked and waited 15 as is custom,” the Merc mumbled. “This man must speak to you.”
     “What man?”
     The Merc guardsman stepped out of the doorway, revealing Ensign Sebastian Balin.
     “Chief Justice,” Ensign Balin nodded. “Justices of the Antigone Courts.” He nodded again. “I am Ensign Sebastian Balin of Mercury’s Elite Guards. I’ve been ordered to inform you that Kaiser Rudolpho Imler requests your presence in Avalona. I’ve been given this,” he held up a letter, “to prove that the request comes from the Kaiser. Additionally, a transport awaits you topside. The Kaiser wishes for your presence as quickly as possible. We are to go, now.”   
     Adonis bit his lip, before saying, “I’ll have the letter, Ensign.”
     “Of course, Chief,” Ensign Balin nervously crossed the courtroom. He had never had the misfortune of being sent to the highest courts in the land. Nor had he ever wanted to deal with such. Even so, he was a trusted cousin, and when the Kaiser had asked, Colonel Dagon had suggested Balin be sent on this errand. He placed the letter in Adonis’ outstretched hand.
     “The seal of the griffin king,” Adonis remarked prior to breaking the seal and unraveling the document. “It appears that the Kaiser is alive. We are asked to join him in Avalona. Thank you, Ensign Balin. You are excused. We will meet you topside.” The ensign about-faced and purposefully strode out the oak doors. The Merc guardsman tried to quietly ease the heavy doors, though his effort was useless. Adonis waited silently while the Merc struggled to stifle the squeak. When the doors were closed and the Justices were once again in a closed session, Adonis spoke, “in light of new evidence, I move that Justice Mayfield’s proposal be tabled. Do I have a second?”
     “I second,” Justice Thibodeaux answered.
     “I third,” Justice Bayleaf said smartly.
     “We are summoned to Avalona on urgent business,” Adonis stared at the clock, 45 minutes until his appointment. The letter said immediately, though he had not shown it to the others. He needed a justifiable reason to delay; something that all the Justices could be in agreement about. “Prior to the enlightening interruption, I contemplated adjourning for lunch. Since our debate is tabled, I move that we recess for lunch. Afterwards, we’ll meet topside at the transport for a trip to Avalona. Do I have a second?”
     “I second,” Justice Mayfield replied.
     “I third,” Justice Scott mocked.
     “We are adjourned. Meet at the transport in one hour.”
     “Chief Justice,” Songtree said, “do you think that is wise?”
     “Seeley,” a smiling Adonis answered her with, “a hungry judge is no judge at all.”

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