by n dru
Short story about a rich lord put on trial for plotting to assassinate the king
|‘People of Spireguard! It is with great pleasure that I bring you here today to seek your judgement on a very serious matter,’ Began Edward Creams, the mayor of Spireguard city. ‘For you see, my friends & neighbours, it has come to our attention that Count Nathanial Blanchard, the once proud ruler of the eastern granges, has been plotting to murder - yes, ladies and gentlemen, murder - our very own King Luther!’ The crowd erupted in a great roar the moment Creams had uttered the words “Murder” and “King Luther!”, making their opinions heard:
‘Justice for the King! Kill Nathanial!’
‘Yeah, kill that bastard!’
‘He was chosen by God! A threat against the King is blasphemy!’
‘Kill him, yeah, but what about his wealth? The Blanchards are one of the richest families in Spireguard!’
‘This is bullshit and you know it - this whole trial is a sham! Nathanial would never dream of such a thing!’ shouted Harriet Huxbride, maid of honour and confidante for Lady Swan, King Luther’s 2nd cousin, from her seat amongst the gentry.
‘Give his money to the people!’
Creams smiled, this is too easy. ‘Now now,’ he waved his hand to silence the crowd and then continued speaking. ‘Don’t be too hasty in judging this wretched cur before you hear all the evidence. Remember, this is a lawful city and as such Nathanial deserves a lawful trial.’ He glanced over the crowd spread out before him; over ten thousand serfs and beggars had gathered in front of the scaffold Creams was standing on, they knew a scandal like this wasn’t worth missing.
Blanchard was a rich man. As soon as news of his trial had reached public ears, it was a race to the front rows of the courtyard to watch the show. Street vendors had set up around the courtyard’s outer edges taking advantage of the large gathering of people; the smell of goose-fat sausages, freshly brewed beer, and cheap perfume on the ‘women-for-hire’ was carried all over the large open space stretched out in front of Spireguard Tower. To the right of the scaffold sat the upper-classes of society, the rich land-owners and gentry numbered less than eighty, and were clearly upset about Nathanial Blanchard being on trial. It could just have easily been any of them instead, and they knew it.
Creams turned and glanced upwards around Spireguard Tower, searching for King Luther. He had almost given up looking, when he saw the faint reflection of light given off from Luther’s crown on the very peak of the tower itself, on its highest balcony over a thousand ft above his own little scaffold. The Spire the city was named after was such a wonder of engineering; it blossomed out of the very mountain itself and shot up into the air, puncturing a hole in the sky; a symbol of man’s own ingenuity standing defiantly against God and nature alike.
The main bulk of the tower resided deep beneath the mountain, stretching almost a thousand ft below ground as well as the thousand ft above it. This was what kept it standing, the huge “Inverted-Spire” which nobody but the current king or queen has ever had the pleasure to set eyes upon. It was rumoured that this was where Hugo the Horrible had stored his vast fortune hundreds of years earlier, and many treasure-hunters searching for this loot have been shot down by the Spire Guards this winter just like any other. Creams’ mind began to wander, and in doing so it began to wonder whether such ignorant people even deserved to live: ‘So weak-minded and utterly pointless. Past attempts of breaking into the tower have all, without exception, resulted in the offender being executed. So why do these fools even bother trying?’ The answer was obvious, however, not to someone who’s entire existence had been spent living on the gravy-train getting pampered and spoilt by those around him; first by his rich parents, now “special bonuses” from the King in return for swaying a trial one way or another. The rest of the populace of Spireguard lived a very minimalist lifestyle, with many thousands dying of starvation each year. This is why they stole.
Near the front of the crowd a baby cried, and it’s teenage mother tried her best to keep it quiet. ‘Hush little one, you’re making a scene.’ The baby’s response to this was an increase in the ferocity and volume of its ear-splittingly horrendous cries.
‘Silence that bastard-child, wench, or I’ll assign somebody to do it for you.’ Creams barked at the young girl, unsparingly. In return she merely bowed and moved to the very back of the crowd.
‘Somebody should give that child a sausage or some bread, it looks thin enough!’
‘I wouldn’t mind giving its poor mother a sausage to wrap her lips around either, if you know what I mean…’
‘Aye! Haha! Me too mate, come to mention it, she looks familiar!’
‘Ere now that you mention it she does. Oi Creams! Isn’t she one of yours? That “bastard-child” is probably your own you wretch!’
‘Typical. Get your arse down here and help support the life which you helped to create, Creams!’
Creams reddened, he did now recall the girl, and he had indeed laid with her in bed a little less than a year ago. As he gazed into the crowd an idea formed in his head, a way to worm his way out of this situation as easily and quickly as it had been to worm his way into his bastard-child’s mother last year.
He withdrew his purse, and from it acquired a single golden coin. He then began flicking the coin up and down, noting its weight until the crowd fell silent; watching and waiting to see what he was about to do. The sight of gold to the poor is like the sight of blood to a vampire, they were all ready and waiting to pounce upon it at any given time to sustain themselves on its goodness.
‘Support my bastard-child? What would be the point? Have you not seen its mother? You lot would take whatever I throw her way for yourselves. If I gave anything to her, the slum-gangs would take it the second she left the safety of my home.’ This was met by a mixed response from the crowd, some murmured agreement, others - the more intelligent - continued baiting the bear.
‘No way, Creams. You’re forgetting that this is Spireguard! Our people are noble and just!’
‘He’s right! We wouldn’t dare steal from a single-mother!’
Creams tried to hold back a smile, but failed. The crowd saw this, and knew what was coming. ‘Fine, lets see shall we. Wench, catch!’ He then threw the large golden coin in her direction. She caught it, but was instantly pushed to the ground as hundreds of people all ran towards her in an attempt to claim it for themselves. Punches were thrown in all directions, and the coin changed hands every couple of seconds. An hour passed before the crowd lost sight of the coin and some lucky guy pocketed it secretly.
The mother of the child now lay face-down in the mud, either unconscious or dead. Her baby was missing, either trampled to death or kidnapped. Surrounding the woman around forty other people lay bloody and beaten to death. Someone in the crowd, probably the person who made off with the coin, had taken the liberty of introducing his dagger into anyone’s neck who neared the golden coin.
‘I think I’ve made my point. Now, lets continue on with the trial.’ Creams signalled one of the soldiers to run inside and fetch the prisoner, then leaned on the guillotine which had newly been erected on the scaffolding, while biting into an apple. Less than a minute later, the soldier returned followed immediately by Nathanial Blanchard. The Count made a less-than-impressive sight. He had been routinely beaten by the guards, it was clear to all, both by the battered and bruised complexion of his skin and by his somewhat crippled attempt at walking. He wore nought but a long white silk shirt which covered his whole body, save that of it which was below his knees - Creams smirked and thought to himself ‘Haha, the once mighty Count Blanchard now resembles a small child in a night-garment. Look how he trembles with each step he draws closer and closer to the guillotine.’
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the accused, Count Nathanial Blanchard!’ Creams grabbed Nathanial’s wrist and held it upwards into the air, Nathanial put up little resistance as the crowd erupted once more;
‘Bastards! You’ve beaten him before the trial! He can barely stand!’ Harriet Huxbride, again. The only voice supporting Nathanial.
‘Scrounger! Not so high-and-mighty now are you, Count Blanchard!’
The rest of the gentry, however, remained silent.
Creams raised his hand to silence the crowd and then continued speaking; ‘The court of Spireguard charges you with attempting to assassinate our good King Luther, how do you plead?’ This question was directed at Nathanial, but Creams remained staring out into the crowd as if he were addressing them instead of him.
‘Not guilty.’ replied Nathanial, in a melancholic, beaten down sort of voice.
The crowd booed and put great effort into making their dislike to his decision to plead “not guilty” known.
‘Kill him and give us his fortune!’
Creams tossed his half-eaten apple out into the crowd, a few children rushed to finish it off and yet another fight broke out. Creams stood and watched, he enjoyed this, acting the show-man and watching them fight for his scraps. He wondered how they’d react if he told them the coin he threw out earlier was fake.
‘The prosecution calls its first and only witness, Miss Crystal Watkins!’ Creams threw his arms in the air then brought them down pointing towards the main-doors of Spireguard Tower. They burst open, and a scantly dressed woman appeared through them. ‘Heh, I wonder if Luther’s trust in this prostitute will pay off on stage here today.’ he thought to himself as he watched her walking towards the scaffold, like a model on a catwalk she put great emphasis into showing off her “goods” to the crowd whenever possible, yet still sparingly enough to keep them wanting more.
‘If you want more, boys, you’ll have to come see me later. But don’t forget to bring something shiny that I can rub together to…spark my fire.’ She smiled and winked at the gentry, who’s return to her was to dust off their cold shoulders. The lords and ladies all looked straight past her as if she wasn’t even there, shunning her as if she were a visually-contagious leper.
‘Bollocks to you lot then, miserable sods.’ The crowd laughed and cheered. Crystal shook her head at the gentry mockingly and dropped off the stage into the crowd who lifted her up above their heads like crowd surfer. They then began chanting her name;
‘Do I have to remind you that we’re in the middle of a trial here? C’mon, poor Nathanial looks freezing up here all alone. Would you mind, Crystal?’ Creams held out his hand for Crystal Watkins. She grabbed it, and he pulled her up onto the scaffolding. The crowd booed and showed dismay, but Crystal blew them a kiss and winked, saying ‘Now boys, you know where to find me if you need anything, but I’m a bit busy right now, as you can see…Creams is a big man, I sure wouldn’t want to keep him waiting.’
Laughter and applause erupted from the crowd once more.
‘My god,’ thought Creams, ‘King Luther was right about her, she knows how to work the crowd even more better than I do.’
‘Much obliged, miss Watkins, thank you for joining me up here on the scaffolding. Shall we begin then?’ Creams enquired, reaching out and kissing Crystal’s hand.
‘Honey, call me Crystal.’ She said with a smile, ‘and begin whatever you want, sugar, I’m ready for you.’ again, finishing this off with a wink to the crowd, who reacted just as she had predicted. Hoots and hollers in appreciation of her finesse.
‘You are, Crystal…’ Creams paused to send a quick smile her way. ‘the proprietor of a well-known alcoholic distribution and accommodation business on Westbridge Street?’
‘Please, Creams, I think you’re forgetting I am but a lady after all, spare me the long words if it’s not too much to ask. But if you mean to ask if I own the place, then yeah. The Flowing River has been in my family for years. Quite a successful little business, actually. Most of my customers have been coming for years.’ Crystal flicked her eyelashes at the crowd and lifted them up with the biggest most comforting smile Creams had ever set his eyes on. The crowd burst out into a mixture of applause and laughter once more, they truly loved the entertainment she provided.
‘I see, and do you recognise this (Creams pointed towards the now unconscious Nathanial Blanchard, who lay on the floor of the scaffolding) young gentleman?’
‘Indeed I do, sir. He rented a room from me not so long ago.’
‘Oh, and which room was this?’
‘He made it clear that he wanted the room overlooking the street, the one on the third floor. Albeit for me to refuse a customer, so I cleared Betty out of there and let him have the room for a small extra fee.’
Upon mentioning “Betty” a man in the crowd shouted out ‘Betty’s the best girl in The Flowing River! Always ask for Betty!’ which was accompanied soon after by a general murmur of agreement throughout the crowd.
‘When was this, by the way?’ Creams enquired; putting a lot of emphasis on the way he looked at her while awaiting her response, over-acting with every feature of his face the feeling of mock-perplexity.
‘About a week ago, the day before the King’s Name Day festival.’
‘Ah, I see! The parade for which passes right through Westbridge Street, am I right?’
‘You always are, sweetie.’
Creams blushed and cleared his throat; ‘Ahem, right, well…the view from the window Nathanial Blanchard rented would have overlooked the entire ceremony, giving him plenty of time to fire an arrow at our good king sitting unsuspectingly below, correct?’
‘Yeah, I guess it would.’
The crowd gasped and a few broke out shouting;
‘That’s it! He’s guilty!’
‘Kill the bastard! We’ve heard enough!’
Until Creams raised a hand to them, issuing a silent order for them to quiet down and “Just wait for it”.
‘Your cleaner came across something in his room while he was away for the day, can you tell us what it was she found?’
‘Aye, a solid silver repeater-crossbow with the Blanchard coat of arms engraved on the side of it.’
‘This crossbow, where is it now?’
‘A girl’s gotta eat, honey. I sold it…’
Harriet Huxbride interrupted Crystal with a shout of defiance;
‘See! It’s a set up! Of course she doesn’t have the crossbow, it never existed! No crossbow, no evidence, no proof for any of this! No evidence of his guilt save for the lies of a cheap whore!’
The gentry in the immediate area of Harriet pulled her backwards, down into her seat and begged her to be quiet. Tension between the common and upper-classes had always been high, that was part of the reason for such a large turn-out for this trial. Not only this, but the thousands of people surrounding the 80 or so upper class could easily turn nasty, not to mention that none of them had even brought battle-gear with them.
‘Damn it, Harriet. Look around you. Are you trying to get us killed too?’ and elderly man to the left of her had whispered in her ear.
‘Its wrong, Alfred. Its just wrong. You know as well as I do what’s going on here; Luther fears Nathanial and wants his land. The only way he can take it without it leading to a war between us and the Spire Army is if he exposes Nathanial as a traitor to Spireguard. For goodness sake we must do something!’
‘Harriet, please. We can’t do anything about it right now. They’d find a way to lump us all together with Nathanial as collaborators and charge us with plotting to assassinate Luther if we give them the slightest excuse, then he really will have won. Please, for Nathanial’s sake you must keep quiet. He is a martyr for our cause, which is regrettable. But mark my words, we will make Luther pay for this one day.’
Harriet sat back, accepting all that Alfred had said to her to be true.
Creams stood for a moment, wanting the gentry to speak up again. But they never, so he looked back to Crystal and asked her to continue.
‘As I was saying, I sold the crossbow…it was solid silver for heaven’s sake, what d’you expect? But I do still have the bolts he would have used as ammunition. I thought ahead, y’see, realised you’d want some evidence so here it is. But sweetie be sure to know that I’m taking them back with me to sell once you’ve looked at them.’
‘That’s quite alright. How many are there?’
‘Two packs of 12, so 24 in total.’
‘More than enough for a vulnerable king. Thank you for your assistance and contribution to this case, you may leave.’ Creams grabbed and kissed her hand again, then beckoned her to depart from the scaffold.
‘Oh trust me, the pleasure was all mine. I’m only too happy to help a man in need, ask anyone from the front row.’ Crystal turned to face the crowd before continuing, directing this part of her speech at them; ‘Oh don’t act like I didn’t see you guys pushing to the front as soon as you saw little ole me walkin’ down that scaffold. Well, just so you know, I’m heading over to my place now, and I’ll be needing a few volunteers to escort me home. I’m sure the girls and I can think of some way to repay a few of you fine young men…if you’re interested.’ Then she got up and made an over-dramatic exit, doing the same “catwalk-like” stroll she had done earlier while first emerging from Spireguard Tower. There was a rush of movement surging through the crowd as men clambered over each other to get close to her to escort her back to The Flowing River, and eventually five or so ended up leaving with her.
‘Now that you’ve heard from our one and only witness, lets hear your verdict, oh noble jury. Do you find the accused, Nathanial Blanchard, guilty of attempting to assassinate our own King Luther?’
The crowd exploded in noise, everyone cheering and shouting at the same time.
‘Kill him! He’s a bastard!’
‘He’s guilty! Explain why he wanted that room at The Flowing River!’
‘Yeah! And explain the crossbow!’
‘Assassin! King-Slayer! Kill him!’
Cream smirked, the hooker was worth the bag of gold, after all. She could tell them anything and they’d believe it. It’s a shame about The Flowing River and King Luther’s plan to burn it down at midnight this night, with Crystal Watkins and her girls locked inside. But that’s just the way of things. It’s how it must be. Creams then went on to wonder about how secure his own position was, how long until he stops becoming useful and Luther disposes of him so he doesn’t go running to the gentry, telling them all of his less-than-legal dealings.
At the edge of the scaffold was a wooden bucket filled half-way with rain water, Creams approached it, spat into it, then picked it up. He proceeded to walk towards the unconscious Nathanial Blanchard, and emptied it over him. ‘Wakey wakey, Count Blanchard. Your royal carriage awaits.’ Nathanial regained consciousness, and Creams lifted him up to his feet before turning to the crowd.
‘Luther knew Blanchard to be guilty before the trial even began, so steps were taken. The good king has done something which, in my eyes, is too kind. He is far too soft on you lot. You owe him for this blessing, to be sure.’ Creams patted Nathanial heavily on the back. Nathanial said nothing, his eyes looked too groggy to even see what was going on. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, when Nathanial here was unconscious we had our best surgeon cut him open and implant Nathanial’s largest diamonds and around fifteen gold coins around his body. Here’s a tip for any of you treasure hunters out there, the biggest gem will surely be in his pancreas. Enjoy.’ After he finished talking, Creams kicked Nathanial’s limp body off of the scaffold and into the crowd, who all rushed to the front in a feeding frenzy. Nathanial shouted in pain as his body was succumbed by the shear mass of the crowd.
Nathanial’s wife and daughter were standing at the side, watching helplessly. ‘You bastards! You horrible, horrible bastards!’ his wife shouted through tear-filled eyes.
The crowd tore into him with their bare-hands, ripping him apart in search of a few gems. Swords were drawn, and more blood was shed between the carrion bird-like “treasure hunters” as they fought each other for the blood-soaked riches.
‘Check in his legs!’ Called out Creams from the scaffold, eating a fresh apple and laughing out loud.
‘This is too easy, after all.’ King Luther muttered to himself from high up on his balcony as he watched Nathanial get torn apart by the over-starved population of his city. ‘What, do these people have absolutely no morals?’
He burst out laughing, and retired to his bed chamber.