The circular hall had been filled.
Men and women packed the benches around the walls, lining the seven-pointed star that was the tiled floor's main feature. They were all dressed more or less in the same manner: blue, green, purple, or black robes and dresses, pants and tunics. It was the proper etiquette for a trial, which was what they had come to see.
To nal-Ladren Hamagril Kliar Amil, it almost seemed as if it was the whole of the Kliar-clan who sat there. He knew it could not be so; there were far more people than were here in his own mark let alone clan, but there were still a lot. His deep grey eyes roamed around the hall restlessly, taking in all the people hungrily. It was the first trial he'd been allowed to attend, having just reached the required age of fifteen two weeks past. His fingers played idly with the hem of his green tunic, twisting it lazily around their tips.
He was distraced from his survey of the room by a nudge in his ribs. He turned his head to look at the grinning youth beside him. 'Look, Ladren,' his friend fer-Thrisal Malger Kliar Barlan whispered. He jerked his head towards the large double-door at the other end of the hall, making his pale blonde hair- exactly the same color as Ladren's own- flop over into his face. He pushed it out and went on, 'They're bringing in the prisoner.' It was his second trial; he must have known when this was to happen because as of yet, there was no sign of any movement at the door. Ladren smiled back and waited.
And then they swung open. Two guards marched in, dragging the prisoner after them. He was not a large man by any stretch of the imagination; he was actually rather small, but, while slender, was strongly built. The clothes around his frame looked as if they had seen better days, worn and creased as they were. His hair was a dark brown, appearing black except for when the light from one of the hall's fourteen windows caught it. From this distance, Ladren judged him to be in his late thirties. The guards escorting him held him by two short chains, one around each wrist. He was giving the guards some resistance, but they pulled him forwards relentlessly by the chains and he had no choice but to follow.
When they reached the center of the star in the floor, the trio stopped. The two guards shoved the prisoner two his knees by means of the chains, then held him there by stepping on the chains just below the manacles attatching them to his wrists. He shifted his weight slightly more onto his arms than his knees and looked around the room. His eyes- were they purple? Ladren couldn't tell at that distance- shifted uneasily around, staring at each person's face, then finally coming to rest on the one who had just stood.
nal-Hamagril Doron Kliar Amil was the overlord of all the nal-mark of the Kliar-clan and was Ladren's father. He was an imposing figure; tall, with shoulder-length black hair just starting to grey at the temples, and a determined stance. The lines in his face did not signal aging, but rather wisdom and strength; Ladren had heard more than once that Hamagril could make anyone spill out the truth just by looking at them. It was no wonder to anyone why he, of all the house heads, had been chosen head of the mark. In fact, there was talk about him becoming clan head next.
But that was of no matter now; what was important was the trial. Hamagril began speaking without so much clearing his throat as others often did. 'What is your name?' he asked the prisoner kneeling before them.
'Menil Garen.' The prisoner licked his lips nervously.
Hamagril raised one eyebrow slightly. 'Is that all?'
'Of what house and mark are you?'
'None.' All this was given in a level voice and manner.
His last two replies caused a small breeze of whispers to be heard; he was, then, one who had committed a crime before, to be disowned from house, mark, and clan. Hamagril waved them to silence. 'You have been accused, Menil Garen, of attempting an attack upon my son, nal-Ladren Hamagril Kliar Amil, and the murder of two guards.'
Ladren shifted uncomfortably as every eye fixed on him, including those of the prisoner. He himself, actually, had never been aware of an attack until it had been told to him some hours back, but apparently there had been. And this man had done it.
The prisoner- Menil- eyed him up and down, then turned back to Hamagril as the lord addressed him. 'Do you claim guilt or innocence?'
'Innocence,' was Menil's clear reply.
'Even though there were three who saw you stab the guards?'
'Yes,' replied the prisoner calmly.
'And you were found in the second chamber next to Ladren's rooms without permission.'
'And you were holding a bloody knife in your hand.'
Hamagril sighed. 'You're insane to deny it after that. You are aware that there are less severe penalties given should you admit to guilt immediately?'
'Yes.' None of his previous uneasiness showed; he looked rather casual.
'Well then. Will the first speaker come forth, then?'
A young woman stood- Glethyr, Ladren's twin sister. She smoothed her blue dress nervously, then spoke in a loud, clear voice. 'I was with Ladren that night; we were playing a game of chance-sticks, I think it was. I heard a noise in the next room and got up to see what it was. I saw him-' she pointed to Menil, 'stab one of the two guards in that room; the other was already dead. I heard him mutter something about Ladren. Then I quietly left so he wouldn't see me, locked the door behind me, and went to get someone.' She looked around the hall expectantly, not sure what to do.
Hamagril spoke again. 'What was it that he said?'
'I didn't hear exactly, but I heard Ladren's name.'
'Did you tell Ladren anything about it?'
'Well... no. I didn't want to alarm him.' Glethyr could be so patronizing sometimes, Ladren thought to himself.
'I see. Thank you.' Hamagril looked at Menil. 'Do you deny what she said?'
The lord of nal-mark shrugged. 'The next speaker?'
It was an older woman who stood up then as Glethyr sat down. This was Nurmen, one of the servants at the head-house. 'I was in the next room over, when I heard a cry from the room next to Ladren's and went to look. He'd just stabbed one of the two set to watch that door that night. And I...' She colored brightly. 'Well, I believe I fainted then, but I remember that.'
Hamagril laughed gently. 'That's all right. Thank you.' As she sat, he asked Menil the same question. 'Do you deny what she said?'
'The third speaker,' Hamagril went on to the rest of the assembly, 'cannot say anything because he is dead. He was the second of those two guards stabbed; he lived until help came, identified Menil Garen as his murderer, and died. Menil, do you deny this?'
'Then I believe we have finished with this... mockery of a trial.' He fixed Menil with a piercing eye. 'You claimed innocence in the face of evidence that you did not even argue; this has wasted our time and you will get the harsher of the two sentences possible rather than the weaker that you would have had had you admitted guilt at first. Have you anything to say in your defense?'
'Not much.' Menil seemed almost amused with something, though Ladren could not see why. The man was as good as dead. 'Only that I am innocent.'
Hamagril rolled his eyes. 'You are condemned to death for murder and attempted attack. Does anyone here disagree?' No one moved. 'Bring him to the cage, then.'
The cage, in the center of the marketplace, was situated on poles
that raised it some six feet above the ground. It was about five
feet in width, ten in length, and four in height. It was here that
Menil was taken, followed by much of the crowd from the hall, including
Hamagril and Ladren. When they reached it, Hamagril climbed on top
of it, balancing carefully on the bars that formed the roof. He bent
down with a key in hand and unlocked the lock that held the cage door-
a small appature in the roof- shut, then pulled it open. 'Bring him
up,' he ordered. Menil was thrust forwards and lifted up to the nal-mark
lord, who seized him by the wrists- devoid now of chains- and pulled him
over to the door. With quick ease, he tipped Menil head first into
the cage. Only his hold on the condemned's wrists stopped Menil from
striking the floor with his head rather than his feet. As it was,
the rest of him fell threw the opening before his head and he landed feet
down on the wooden planks covering the bottom of the cage. Hamagril
released his wrists, dropping him the rest of the way, then shut the door
and locked it. He walked carefully over to the edge of the cage and
jumped down to rejoin the others. 'No one is to feed him,' he instructed
in a loud voice. 'He is to die there, not to live.'
Menil watched them with inscrutable purple eyes.