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Black Rock at Bad Day IV - Conclusion

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#1 Guest_MorningGlory_*

Posted 28 November 2004 - 02:43 PM

Black Rock at Bad Day

Rated STRONG PG-13: Strong Violence, Language, and Graphic Depiction of Sexual Assault, Attempted Rape

Chapter IV

It was so deadly quiet in the room that only the soft padding of Miss Jaheira’s shoes could be heard as she rose from her chair and with head held high walked to the witness stand. As Chambers studied her face, he knew she was steeling herself for this test of character, as it was inescapable that she must recount the horrid events of that dark day. He knew she would be asked to describe in great detail every ugly and despicable thing that had happened to her, and to Khalid, at the hands of the sadistic monster that now sat subdued before her. But the law was clear -- the accuser must properly and publicly face the accused in an open forum. It was here and it was now, and from the long faces Chambers saw as he glanced around, no one was looking forward to it. Least of all, the star witness as she stood in front of her seat.

Sheriff Keldorn approached her to administer the oath. “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help your gods and on your oath as a Harper?” he asked.

Looking the sheriff squarely in the eyes, her voice rang clearly and distinctly for all to hear. “I do,” she replied. His immediate duty done, Sheriff Keldorn returned to his chair.

“You may sit down, Miss Jaheira,” Judge Theo instructed her. She nodded and took her seat. Chambers saw her slightly bristle as her eyes locked on Jonny. This was the first time since the murder of Khalid and her own assault that she had actually seen him. If looks could kill, the trial would have been over right then and there.

“Miss Jaheira,” Judge Theo gently began, drawing her attention from Jonny to the jurist. “I know this is not going to be easy for you -- and if you need to stop at any time, just say so – but, I want you to tell this court in your own words exactly what happened on the 10th of Flamerule of year before last.” She nodded then again turned to face the gallery and took a deep breath.

“ Khalid -- my husband -- and I arose early, as we always did, and while I made our morning meal, he went to milk the cow and gather the eggs from the barn. Then after our morning meal, he and I then went together to attend to our livestock, feeding and watering them in the pens behind the barn. This had been our morning ritual since we moved to the Pasqual ranch when we first purchased it,” she explained.

“Khalid usually then went to the barn to check on a mare that was due to foal in a few days. He always did that…checked on her every morning and spent time with her. He said since it was her first, he wanted to reassure her everything would be fine when her time came. And I would tell him that he was being silly, that the horse didn’t know what he was talking about, and that nature would lead the way of her instincts with her delivery. He would always argue that yes, she did know his intentions – of that he was totally convinced. Then he would say, ‘Jah, if it..it..it was you, yo..you would wa..want..me to re..re..reassure you…’.” She paused and took a deep breath. “It was his way of telling me he wanted us to start our own family.

“It..it had become something of a daily banter between us during the prior several tendays. But that particular morning I had surprised him and before I left him at the barn, I told him it was time. Time for us to start our own family. He…he was elated and hugged me and kissed me. It.. it was the last time.” Another pause. “Then I returned to the house to make my bread and get the wash started early. It was going to be hot that day and I wanted to get those things done and out of the way early.”

She took another deep breath. “I was in the kitchen, in the back of the house preparing to make my dough and I heard the front door open. I thought it was Khalid. And as I turned to greet him I found myself confronted with three strangers standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.”

Judge Theo interrupted her. “Miss Jaheira, you did not recognize any of these ‘strangers’?”

“No, your honor,” she said and shook her head. “I did not know who they were. There were two females and one male, from what I could see.”

“And do you see any of that party in the courtroom today, Miss Jaheira?” he asked gently.

“Yes, your honor,” she said, her voice filled with bitterness as she pointed directly at Jonny the Kid. “Him.”

The drama was not wasted on the crowd. A loud rumbling went up and the jurors fidgeted in their chairs. Judge Theo instantly lowered the gavel in a loud, singular bang. “Quiet!” he barked. Silence was immediately restored as he looked out over the crowd of faces. “Let the record show that Miss Jaheira has identified Joneleth Irenicus, the accused.” He turned back to her. “Now, Miss Jaheira, can you describe the two women who accompanied Mr. Irenicus?”

Ployer stood up to interject. “Your honor –“

“Baron Ployer. I am in the process of directing a question to a witness,” Judge Theo began tersely. “You know better than to interrupt –“

“But your Honor, I can save the court a lot of time, if you will allow me to be heard,” implored the lawyer. Judge Theo scratched at his chin as he stared at the seamy barrister grinning before him.

“Very well, Baron Ployer,” the Judge sniffed. “Just how can you save us time and effort here, aside from changing your client’s plea from innocent to guilty.”

“Your Honor,” replied the Baron, most solicitously. “My client IS innocent, however, that is not why I have interrupted you. The defense is more than willing to stipulate that the two women in attendance were Jon Irenicus’ sister, Bodhi, and her servant girl, whose name is, er.. unknown. We will further stipulate that both females were of the undead, being vampires, and that is why we do not have evidence of their existence at this moment – other than the sworn affidavit of my client and eyewitness accounts at the time of their demise. May I approach the bench?”

The Judge still scratched at his chin as his eyes narrowed. “You may approach, Baron,” he finally said. The Baron picked up the parchment and carried it to the Judge.

“Here, your honor,” he smiled and laid it front of the jurist. “My client’s sworn affidavit and the attached stipulation to the fact that his sister and accomplice were both vampires and were, in fact, with him on that fateful day.” Ployer glanced in the direction of Jaheira and although Chambers could not see it, he knew the evil Baron was sneering at her.

Judge Theo looked over the documents then up at Ployer. “Very well, since the defense has so stipulated, let it be entered as a fact of the case.”

“Thank you, your Honor,” the Baron nodded and grinned then returned to his chair.

“What does all of this mean?” Miss Jaheira asked Judge Theo. Being unfamiliar with legal proceedings, she was slightly perplexed.

“It just means that the defendant is saying he was there that day and he agrees that his sister and another woman whom he knew was there. It corroborates your testimony to this point,” he explained to her.

Chambers and Valygar glanced at each other, both brows wrinkled in small tight furrows, both thinking the same thing. Why was Ployer so eager to place his client at the scene of the crime? And why was he so adamant about placing Bodhi and the servant there? It didn’t make sense. Their attention was again drawn to the Judge.

“Now, Miss Jaheira, please continue from where you saw them in your doorway,” he said.

She nodded and began to fidget with the handkerchief still in her hands. “I…I was shocked that there were intruders. I didn’t know them and they didn’t look friendly. The one woman – he called her Bodhi – she approached me hissing and snarling. I could see from her exposed teeth that she possessed two small sharp fangs. I didn’t know how, but I knew she was a vampire and even though it was broad daylight, she looked as though she was going to attack me. I… I tried to call a spell of protection, but wasn’t able as she grabbed my arms and clasped my mouth. Then her servant joined her, helping her to restrain me. All the while, that man,” and she pointed to Irenicus, “was barking orders to them.”

“Did you hear the orders that he gave to them, Miss Jaheira?” asked Judge Theo. “Do you recall any of the conversation they had between them just at that moment?”

“I….I was fighting against them. She… Bodhi kept talking to me, telling me I was going to make a wonderful servant for her after she emptied all my blood. That we would ride the range forever together, just the two of us. She…she licked my neck, acting like she was going to attack me and then she laughed as I struggled. I only clearly heard some of the things he said, as he ransacked my kitchen.”

“What exactly did you hear him say, Miss Jaheira,” Judge Theo asked.

“I heard him tell them to tie me up and gag me, then to look for things of value,” she replied, her voice beginning to waver. “Then Bodhi told her servant to hold my arms and mouth as she began ripping my dress from me. She tore the skirt into long strips and wound them into roped bands then tied my hands behind my back.”

Chambers watched as she unconsciously rubbed at her wrists, her voice still wavering. He wanted to run to her, to pick her up and carry her away from these painful things – the memories, and the here and now. He crossed his arms tightly and shifted his weight restlessly in his chair. He felt a consoling pat on his arm and turned to his friend, as Val nodded at him. Val knew her; he knew if she survived the event itself, she would certainly survive the retelling. Chambers turned back to watch the anguished woman in the witness chair. She was forging on with her story.

“Then after my hands were tied and I was gagged, she bound my feet together. She.. she then proceeded to rip my undergarments from me, until.. until.. I was naked.”

“What did she say to you while she was doing this?” asked the Judge. Chambers saw the pain on the jurist’s face as he listened to her, but he couldn’t fault the Judge for having to put her through this -- for asking her the explicit details, of needing to know all the facts. His respect for Hickok grew, as Chambers doubted he could have asked that of her. His inclination would have been to simply rise from the bench, look at Jonny, say ‘You’re guilty’, then shoot him dead. A very short trial, as it would have been over before it began.

“She..she kept saying what a joy I was going to be as her.. her undead lover, and she..she began to rub her cold hands on my breasts and…and between my legs.” She hung her head with shame as the crowd shuddered. “She said she wanted to remember what I felt like while I was still warm.” A muffled round of whispers erupted from the gallery. Judge Theo looked menacingly at them and it quickly subsided.

“Was Jonny in the room when this happened, Miss Jaheira?” the Judge asked softly.

She shook her head as she dabbed at her wet eyes. “He was at first when she ripped my dress from me and tied my hands, but then he left to another part of the house. Then he came back after she had ripped everything away.”

“What happened when he came back?” he asked gently.

“He said there was nothing of value worth taking. Then Bodhi said ‘yes, there was’. Me. She said she wanted to take me. For herself, and she asked him if she could have me. Then he told her to lay me on the kitchen table and..and she did. Then she and her servant held me down while he untied my feet. Then he..he touched me where she had and said…said I wasn’t an elf. He called me a half-breed piece of trash, then said that was better than nothing and laughed. I could hear him unbuckling his gun belt and I knew what he was going to do to me. I tried to kick and wriggle free as he touched me again, then he told the servant to hold my shoulders down and Bodhi to hold one leg while he held the other, and --”

Her voice broke and she could contain it no longer. The courtroom was deadly quiet except for the deep shaking sobs coming from the witness chair. Chambers instinctively began to rise from his chair, to go to her side, to rescue her from this ordeal -- only to be stopped by his friend’s firm hand on his arm. He looked at Valygar. He shook his head ‘no’ as his eyes said ‘don’t do it’, and one word formed silently on his lips – ‘mistrial’. Chambers knew what he meant. Ployer could demand a mistrial at such a disruption and Judge Theo would have no choice but to grant it. Then this awful, awful scene would have to be repeated again in front of even more people, and most of them total strangers. He slowly leaned back in his chair gritting his teeth, suddenly angry. So gut-wrenching angry that he was so totally helpless to do anything for her except sit there and do nothing.

He looked at Hickok and found him briefly staring at him. Chambers recognized the unspoken warning on his face. He had the same look that Val had had. That, and the fire in the half-elf’s eyes told him that this scene had affected the jurist in the same way it had affected him. Theo was just better at containing it. The Judge turned to Miss Jaheira.

“Miss Jaheira? Would you like to take a short recess?” he asked softly. She adamantly shook her head no and raised her chin to face the crowd.

“No, your Honor,” she replied briskly, her voice still shaky. “I…I can continue. It is something I must do. For Khalid.” She turned and looked at Theo, a stark flush of pain momentarily filling her face. And just as quickly as it had appeared, Chambers saw it leave.

“Very well,” sighed the Judge and nodded. She took another deep breath.

“Then as they were holding me, I heard the front door and suddenly I saw Khalid standing in the kitchen doorway. He…he caught them by surprise and they both let go of my legs at the same time. I twisted and struggled to break free of the woman holding my shoulders but I couldn’t. Then I heard a shot and I….I….I saw my Khalid slump to the floor, the life gone from his eyes.”

“Miss Jaheira, where was Mr. Irenicus when the shot was fired?” the Judge asked.

“He was at the end of the table,” she replied and dabbed at her eyes.

“And where was his sister, Bodhi?” he asked.

“She..she was standing partially in front of him and to his left,” she said.

“And the kitchen door?”

“To my right closer to the far wall,” she explained. He nodded, making notes.

“Please, continue, if you can, Miss Jaheira,” he prompted her. She nodded and turned to again face the crowd.

“Then Jonny said something that he, meaning Khalid, wasn’t going to interrupt anyone’s fun anymore then turned to me, his gun still in his hand as he pulled up his trousers. I just lay there. Silvanus, help me, but all I wanted him to do was to point the pistol at me and pull the trigger. Then Bodhi said, ‘what about her?’ and he said to just leave me, that I would be nothing but trouble and I was a worthless half-breed and not worth the bullet wasted to kill me. Then Jonny and his sister went and talked in the other room where I couldn’t hear them. Bodhi came and gathered her servant and then they left the house.” She had gotten through the worst of it and was now slowly regaining her composure.

“What did you do then, Miss Jaheira?” asked Judge Theo.

“I…I lay there for an indeterminate time just staring at the ceiling. I couldn’t move. I was caught in this…in this…nightmare. Then after a short time – I don’t know how long it was – I heard the front door again. I.. I was afraid that they had come back for me, until I heard Valygar’s voice calling ‘hello’. It brought me to my senses and I climbed off the table and wriggled my gag free on the corner of the counter. I…I called to him. I screamed, I think. And he came to the kitchen. He stopped at Khalid’s body then rushed to my aid and untied me and went to fetch my robe. As he did, I went to Khalid. I.. I saw there was no way to bring him back. The damage was irreparable. His heart was completely gone. I.. I fainted.

“When I came to, Valygar had put my robe on me and I was lying on the sofa in the living room. He asked if I was going to be okay – that he had to go get Sheriff Keldorn. Then he asked me what had happened. I briefly told him then he left, saying he would return shortly. He gave me a gun and told me to ward the door after he left, just in case. The Sheriff and he returned a short time later.”

Judge Theo nodded. “Very well,” he sighed then looked up at Baron Ployer. “Counsel, do you have any questions for the witness?”

“Yes, your Honor,” he grinned in gleeful anticipation as he rose from his chair. He came and stood in front of Miss Jaheira. Unusually close, Chambers thought, as he watched her glare up at him. He leered down at her.

“You don’t like me, do you Miss Jaheira?” the Baron asked and snickered.

“No sir, I despise all slavers,” she replied loudly, the fire re-emerging in her eyes.

The Judge interrupted. “Ployer, if you have legitimate questions of this witness, I suggest that you get to them before I rule you in contempt and fine you 1,000 coin.” It was evident that Theo was immediately unhappy with Ployer’s attitude, thought Chambers.

“My apologies, your Honor,” the greasy man smiled as he tucked his fingers into the small pockets of his garish red and purple silk waistcoat. He began to slowly walk in front of the bench, a 180-degree turn and a slow return almost to the jury box. He was carving his stage as he began to speak.

“Now, Miss Jaheira. You told this court that you saw Mr. Irenicus and his sister Bodhi turn and face the door when your poor, unfortunate husband appeared, is that correct?”

“Yes, from what I could see, that is what happened,” she replied calmly.

“Aha….. And you said that Bodhi was partially in front of Joneleth, and that he, therefore, partially obstructed your view of her? Did I understand you, Miss Jaheira? Is that correct?”

“Yes, that is correct. She let go of my leg and stepped away,” she replied.

“Did Bodhi have a gun, Miss Jaheira? Did you ever at any time see Miss Bodhi with a gun in her hand?” He stopped, staring down at her, waiting for her to reply.

Miss Jaheira looked at the floor, trying to remember. “Well? Do you have an answer for us, Miss Jaheira? Or should we take a recess so that you can ‘refresh’ your memory?” The tone of sarcasm was overly abundant. She ignored it.

“Yes, she had a gun. She held a gun in her right hand when she stepped back into view,” she replied.

“And, our Joneleth,” he continued as he retraced his path yet again. “Did he have a gun in his hand?”

“Yes, when he turned around he held his gun in his left hand,” she replied.

“So if you in all your beautiful naked splendor were being forcibly held prone on the kitchen table, and you testified you were thrashing about attempting to free yourself from that hold -- how can you be sure it was my client who shot and killed your wonderful loving husband?” He paused again directly in front of her and grinned ear-to-ear taunting her. But he didn’t allow her to answer. “Did you actually see Joneleth pull the trigger? Did you see the gun fire? Did you see any vapors, spent powder, or anything else that would lead you to believe conclusively that the bullet that killed Khalid came from Mr. Irenicus’ gun, AND NOT BODHI’S?”

She still did not speak and the courtroom rustled anew with whispers and murmurs. Theo didn’t even notice as he sat bound, awaiting what she would say.

“Let me re-phrase.. You say you didn’t see she was even holding a gun until after your wonderful loving husband lay dead in the kitchen doorway. Am I correct?”

There was a long steely silence as she glared up at him. “You are correct,” she admitted. “I did not see the gun she was holding until after he was shot.


“No,” she replied quietly. There was a long pause as Ployer quickly surveyed the jury’s faces then turned again to her.

“Then you would have to agree that it is equally possible to conclude that the single shot that pierced the heart of your beloved and sent him to the abyss could have been fired by Bodhi. Isn’t that true?” Ployer was on the verge of snickering as he made his dramatic point.

“Yes, but in my heart of hearts, I know better,” she shouted. “I know that demon elf sitting there is the one who took my Khalid’s life!” She half stood from her seat, bracing her weight with one hand on the chair arm as she pointed accusingly at Jonny with the other. She quickly slumped back into the chair.

“I’m sure you do, Miss Jaheira… I’m sure you do. But the evidence says otherwise.” Ployer said smugly. “But let us go on to a couple of other issues.” He resumed his strolling path in front of the witness chair. “You say that Bodhi expressed an interest in making you her lover, is that correct?”

“Yes,” she nodded and again dabbed at her eyes.

“Did Mr. Irenicus ever express a similar interest in you?”

“No, thank the gods,” she snorted.

Ployer nodded. “So, he never directly verbally expressed a physical interest in you at all, did he?”

“I already answered. And to repeat myself, no, he did not,” she replied sternly.

He nodded again, his face still obsessed with his sickening grin. “Did he direct or participate when his sister stripped you naked and made advances upon your person without your consent? Was he there when she fondled your breast, for example?”

“No,” she replied even more tersely. Chambers could see where this was going and the lawyer’s tactics angered him even more. Ployer’s degradation of her was just starting and he knew it was just going to get worse. Paris could see from the expression on the Judge’s face that he had anticipated the same thing and there was little he could do to stop it.

“Now, you have testified that when he returned to the room, he directed his sister to put you upon the kitchen table, correct? And that he untied your feet, then he and his sister each held a leg. Then you say he ‘touched’ you. Was that between your legs, Miss Jaheira, while you were spread out on the kitchen table?” The bastard was doing in words what Irenicus had almost accomplished in actions.

“Yes,” she glared at him.

Ployer turned sharply and quickly followed with another question. “Was he exposed, Miss Jaheira? You do know what I mean by that, don’t you? I will try to put it as delicately as I can for our more sensitive and genteel company here.” He turned and smiled condescendingly at the clusters of ladies in the gallery. “Did you see his male member in full erection, Miss Jaheira? Did he ‘threaten’ you with it?” He chuckled snidely. “Did he tell you he was going to forcibly, shall we say, make love to you, or some other such description?”

“Yes,” she said softly and visibly shuddered. “I saw him.” She paused. “No, he did not tell me anything.”

“Did he penetrate you, Miss Jaheira? Did he violate you with either himself or some foreign object?”

“No,” she whispered. “He was poised and getting ready to—“

Ployer interrupted her sharply and loudly. “I didn’t ask you what he was going to do, Miss Jaheira. I asked you what he actually did. And you say he did nothing more than ‘touch’ you. That wouldn’t even be a ‘fondle’ in my book,” he snorted. “How do you know he wasn’t holding you for his sister, that Miss Bodhi could partake of your pleasures? After all, according to your testimony, she is the only one who had actually expressed any interest in you. She apparently didn’t care that you were a half-breed or not.” The crowd bristled at his words. All Chambers wanted to do was get his hands around the lawyer’s fat neck and squeeze until the life left him. From the expression on Judge Theo’s face, he would have competition for who would have the satisfaction of sending the Baron on his eternal journal into the abyss.

“By the way, Miss Jaheira, did you enjoy Bodhi touching and fondling you? Did it stir and excite that half-breed blood of yours?” he sneered. The crowd rumbled with great dissatisfaction at seeing one of their own being so vilified.

“Baron Ployer! That will be quite enough!” shouted Judge Theo, his face now crimson. “One more comment like that, sir, and I will personally see that you are locked up indefinitely, and permanently disbarred.” Paris could tell it was all the jurist could do to keep his own personal rage in check. The gavel roared against the table.

Unscathed, Ployer grinned at him and shrugged. “What can I say, your Honor? I simply forgot my sense of decorum when asking what I believe is a legitimate question.”

Hickok glared at him. “Ployer, I believe you have more than exhausted this line of questioning. Move ahead or allow the witness to stand down.” Theo’s voice was low and the tone foreboding.

“Thank you, your Honor,” the Baron smiled, contentedly.

“One last question, Miss Jaheira,” he again leered at her. “Did Joneleth Irenicus physically defile you in any way, other than the brief ‘touching’ of your private area?”

Miss Jaheira paused a long moment before answering. “No, he did not.”

Ployer flashed an ever-expanding grin and began to return to his chair. “I have no further questions of this witness, your Honor,” he said as he sat down and conferred with his client.

Chambers sat in resounding disbelief. If the jury believed the evidence and accepted what had been further brought out in Ployer’s cross examination, they would have no choice but to free the bloody bastard! The rotten son-of-a-bitch was going to end up walking out of Bad Day a free elf!! Free to again return and kill at will! Who would be next? He turned and looked at Valygar, whose face mirrored the same realization. Their attention again returned to the witness stand.

Judge Theo turned to the now pale and drawn half-elf in the witness chair. “Miss Jaheira,” he began gently. “The court realizes it was not easy for you to give your testimony here today, and the court thanks you. You may step down.”

She nodded then slowly rose and feebly walked back to her seat. The look on her face told Chambers that she was spent and drained. It also told him that she, too, knew there was now a possibility that Joneleth Irenicus could be found innocent. Her own words might free him.

The next witness called was Valygar, his testimony corroborating Miss Jaheira’s as he happened upon the ranch house. As delicately as he could, he described the conditions under which he had found her and, of course, Khalid. It was short and Ployer had no questions of his own, seeming to be content with the information and doubt he had already managed to harvest and sow, respectively.

Then Doc Aerie testified as to the cause of Khalid’s death by virtue that she had examined the body before it was taken to the undertakers at the other edge of town.

Then there were short testimonies from Chambers, Bernard, Hendak, Deputy Delryn, and finally Sheriff Keldorn in the matter of resisting arrest. Ployer made the point that no one ever saw who shot the Sheriff, and that Jonny had not resisted arrest when he came running out after Bodhi.

When Ployer brought up the question of shooting and killing both Bodhi and her companion, Judge Theo ruled that since they were already ‘technically’ dead, no wrong-doing had been committed on the part of the Sheriff or his makeshift posse. In other words, you couldn’t murder the dead, as he had said.

It was late afternoon when all the testimonies had concluded and Judge Theo gave the jury their deliberating instructions. It was fairly simple, he told them. They must weigh the testimony given and decide for themselves if Joneleth Irenicus was guilty or innocent of the charge of murdering Khalid, as well as the lesser charge of the attempted rape of Miss Jaheira. All preconceived notions must be put aside and only the evidence considered, he had said. And since none of the testimony had been disallowed, they were to consider it all. He then sent them upstairs to an empty room in the back to decide their verdict. Minsc had volunteered to guard the door to the room, promising to keep ‘evil’ from the good people doing their civic and moral duty.

In single file they ascended the stairs, Miss Immy in the lead and Minsc bringing up the rear. Neeber had stopped mid-way and turned to talk to the Judge when the Judge pointed his finger at him threateningly. He thought better of it, closed his mouth, turned, and resumed his upward path. Judge Theo then directed Sheriff Keldorn and Deputy Delryn to return the prisoner to the jail to await the outcome at which time he would be returned to the court to hear the decision.

As soon as the jurors were safely ensconced in their deliberating chamber, and Jonny had been securely escorted from the saloon, Judge Theo dismissed the court until mid-morn the next day, or if the decision was reached before then, the time that it was rendered. Suddenly, everyone was free to come and go, and be as noisy as they wished.

The men lined up 10 deep at the bar demanding that Bernard serve them and getting short-tempered because he and Hendak weren’t as fast as they thought they should be. The ladies, on the other hand, scurried as quickly as they could out the resurrected house of sin, meeting a few of Miss Viccy’s regulars on their way in. No one tampered with the jury box, or the Judge’s ‘bench’, but the gallery rows of chairs were quickly replaced with a modicum of the regular round tables and chairs. The Coronet was suddenly a saloon once again.

Chambers grabbed a table as soon as he could, reserving the remainder of the seats for Val, Miss Jaheira, Theo, and the Sheriff and the Deputy when they returned. Miss Jaheira was off talking to Doc Aerie, trying to convince her to join them, as Minsc would be tied up for as long as the jury was. Val was elbowing his way to the front of the 10-deep to get a couple of bottles of whiskey, a tray of glasses, and a few bottles of sarsaparilla – notable for the Judge per Miss Jaheira’s instructions. It left Chambers and Hickok at the table by themselves.

“I know I shouldn’t ask this,” Chambers began. “But it looks bad, doesn’t it?” He stared intently at the jurist.

Hickok sat with his lower lip pursed and face grim. He looked up at Paris through his long elfin lashes. He nodded pensively. “Yep. If the jury considers nothing but the pure evidence, he walks. If there’s one or two up there that think maybe he didn’t kill Khalid, but for sure he’s guilty of killing someone else, then maybe they can, and will, convince the others they’re doing the right thing by hanging him while they’ve got the chance. That way, they rid the territory of another mad dog and make it a little safer for them, their children, and their children’s children. Right now, I couldn’t even guess one way or the other what they will do.” He paused as they watched the beautiful half-elf start toward the table with Aerie in arm. “All I know is I picked a helluva time to quit drinking,” he sighed.

Chambers caught the Judge’s expression as he watched Miss Jaheira and Doc Aerie chatting. My gods, he thought. He’s known her only a day and already he’s in love with her!?! He looked at her, also. But, he could certainly understand how, he thought.

“Here,” said Chambers as he dug deep in his pants pocket and pulled out the flat round black rock. He didn’t know why he did it, but he tossed the shiny disc in front of Hickok. “It’s always been my lucky charm. But I don’t really believe in lucky charms,” he shrugged. “Keep it for a while. At least until the verdict is in.”

Theo picked it up and ran his fingers over its silky smoothness and smiled. “I once heard about a card player who carried a black rock he called ‘Reload’. Heard he was not only one of the best card players on the planet, but he was an incredible shot as well. I guess that’s you, isn’t it, Chambers?”

“I guess you’d be guessing right, Theo,” Paris sighed.

“And I guess you know they’re still looking for you up north in Baldur’s’ Gate,” Theo replied. “They say you hired Terrill Blankenship to kill your father, then you killed him to keep his mouth shut. The head of the Flaming Fists maintained they took two slugs from Blankenship – one in the heart, and one in the head that they matched to your gun, as I recall from reading the accounts of it.” He looked up at Paris. “But I find that all pretty hard to swallow, Chambers. I’ve seen a lot of cold blooded killers, and you’re not one of them.”

Chambers couldn’t face the Judge’s intense stare. He half-smiled and shrugged one shoulder. “It was my brother -- my ‘half-brother’ who hired Blankenship to kill my father. Blankenship told me himself at the Friendly Arms just before he.. he died.”

“Did you kill him?” Hickok was blunt.

Chambers shook his head. “No, he had sent a message to me, told me to meet him at the Friendly Arms Inn if I wanted to know who killed Gorion, and bring 5,000 gp with me. I traveled hard for two days until I got there. It was late and we met in his room. I gave him the money and then he..he told me that Sarry had hired him – paid him 10,000 gp. Then someone dealt me a crack to the back of the head and I went out like a light. When I woke up, Blankenship laid nearby, with a bullet in his heart and a bullet in his head – from my gun, Ol’ Crom.

“My head hurt and I was woozy, but I knew I had to get away, so I could straighten things out and somehow prove that Sarry was responsible for my father’s death. I staggered out the door and several people saw me. Hell, the barkeep knew I was there to see the gnome because I had asked for him at the bar. I ran and I didn’t stop running until I got to Calimsham. I heard later that the guards found a note in Blankenship’s scrawl that said if anything happened to him, it was me – that I had hired him to kill Gorion and he now feared for his life as the time for payment came due. They also found the 5,000 coin I neglected to take with me, so they assumed the worst.”

“If I were a bettin’ man, I’d say Sarry set you up, Paris,” the Judge nodded. “He set you up real good, my friend.”

“That he did, Theo. He told me so before I killed him two years later.” Theo continued to play with the stone. He didn’t ask Chambers about Sarry’s shooting and Chambers didn’t volunteer any more information.

“Are you sure about this, Paris?” he asked holding up the rock.

“At least until after the sentence is carried out,” Chambers winked. “And, I would say it’s already working for you, Theo.” They both turned their attention back to Miss Jaheira and Doc Aerie as they had stopped to talk to Jan Jansen midway across the room. She was slowly returning to what Chambers knew to be her usual self -- smiling, self-assured. She turned and glanced toward the table and flashed a smile. But it was not for Chambers. It was for Hickok. He smiled back as he slipped the rock into his pocket.

“Is everybody ready for a little something to ward off depressing trials and other maladies of our pitiful town?” Valygar set the tray in the middle of the table then sat down and immediately grabbed one of the bottles and pulled the cork with his teeth as he set up glasses. “And, Theo, there’s yours,” he chuckled and nodded to the large bottle of non-fermented root beer.

“For cripes sake,” Theo moaned. “Couldn’t you have at least brought me a cold one? It’s bad enough I can’t even have a beer, but hot sarsaparilla? That’s cruel, Val!” The three men chuckled. “Well, I’ll go exchange it. I know Bernard has got to have a cold one back there.” The Judge rose from his chair.

“Hey,” Val snickered. “Make sure you don’t go sneaking anything Miss Jaheira might not approve of.” Theo shot him an evil look as he picked up the bottle and left to return it. Chambers and Val both laughed.

They both watched as Bernard directed the Judge to come behind the bar and help himself as he was still far too busy to help him at the moment. The Judge ventured cautiously back.

Suddenly the saloon doors swung open widely and a tall man wielding a gun burst into the room. Closest to the entrance were Miss Jaheira, Doc Aerie and Jansen. He immediately grabbed Miss Jaheira and held the barrel to her head as the other two shrieked away. It took Paris all of a split second to realize whom it was -- Jonny had escaped. But why had he returned? It didn’t make sense he would come back for Miss Jaheira.

Paris already had Ol’ Crom out of its holster, but stopped in mid-draw when he saw he could not get a clear shot. He also hadn’t considered if Jonny was magically protected, considering the stories he had heard of his prowess as a mage.

“Shoot him!” screamed Miss Jaheira as she kicked and squirmed against him. “SHOOT HIM!!” Whether from fear for his captive’s life, or simple shock, no one moved or said a word.

“All right, everybody,” the tall elf sneered loudly at the crowd. “Everybody listen up and do exactly what I say, and I might let your star witness here live. If you don’t, you’re going to be carving her tombstone in the morning. Now take your guns out of their holsters real nice and slow and put them on the nearest table to you…. NOW! And put your hands in the air. If I don’t see your hands, you’re a dead man. And if anybody thinks they’re faster than I am, then he’s gonna be a dead man and she’s gonna be a dead woman. UNDERSTAND??!!”

Holsters were emptied upon the tables and arms went up in the air. Everyone complied, and Chambers wondered why Jonny was depending upon the gun until he saw that he still wore one of the anti-magic cuffs on his wrist with a piece of dangling chain. Just enough to halt his use of magic, he thought. That meant he was vulnerable, too, if he was unable to call any spell of protection.

“Very, very good,” he sneered again. “Now, barkeep.. You and your sidekick there, out from behind the bar… NOW!” he yelled. Paris and Val turned to watch Bernard and Hendak come out front with hands raised. But where was Theo? Paris looked at Val. Val looked at Paris. He was nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly a familiar voice was heard from top of the stairs. “Feels quite different now, doesn’t it, Miss Jaheira. To be publicly humiliated and dehumanized. Now you know how I felt when the authorities stripped me of everything. Sort of like how I stripped you of everything you hold dear when you were upon the stand. And your husband’s killer walking away as a free man? Ah… such heartfelt satisfaction, I cannot begin to tell you.” A resounding evil laugh echoed through the saloon from Baron Ployer as he slowly descended the steps.

“And you’re such an idiot, Joneleth!” he derisively chided the tall elf.. “Don’t you realize you were going to walk away a free man after the jury rendered its verdict? I got you off, you ignorant bastard! Couldn’t you have waited just an hour, maybe two, until the jury freed you? Then we could have left this gods-forsaken dirt water town and gone on to bigger things. We could have made a fortune together!” He paused a moment and shook his head and smiled. “We were such a wonderful team!”

Jonny looked at fat garish man paused on the stairs. “We never spoke about your fee, did we, Ployer?” he calmly asked. The grin on the Baron’s face grew even wider.

“Why, no, Jonny, we didn’t,” he replied and resumed descending the steps. “But we will have plenty of time to discuss it once we are out of this place.”

“I don’t think I will be needing your services anymore,” Jonny replied and with lightening speed, took a bead on Ployer’s sweaty forehead and pulled the trigger. The dead counsel for the defense thudded and rolled down the remaining stairs with a resounding crash. “Consider it paid in full,” he said sarcastically as the body came to rest.

“Let her go, Jonny,” came another voice, low and menacing, this time from behind the bar. Paris and Val turned just in time to see Judge Theodur W. Hickok with a short-barreled shotgun trained solidly on Irenicus. Val and Paris exchanged glances. By the gods, it was Bernard’s ‘Equalizer’. Paris wondered if Theo even knew how to use a shotgun, even one as ‘talented’ as the ‘Equalizer’.

“Suuurrrre,” the elf laughed. “You think you can shoot me with that thing? I’ve never known a Judge who could hit the broad side of a barn, your Honor, but a shotgun?! And with me holding the sainted town martyr?! Surely you jest...” His laughter turned into a near guffaw but the Judge did not move. “Anyway, I’ll let her go just as soon as I get what I came here for. Half-breed filth,” he snorted. “I came here for him.”

The elf nodded in Paris’ direction as their eyes locked. The Sheriff’s story came flooding back to him. The one where people had reported that Irenicus was ‘looking for someone – someone in particular, but no one knew why’. The one that had made Paris instinctively uneasy when he first heard mention of it. The one that made him want to run hard and run fast, away.

Paris made a move for Ol’ Crom on the table. Jonny would have to shoot one of them, and as he did, the other would nail him. Not the best gamble for him; he was the closest and the easiest shot to boot but a good gamble he would shove Jaheira aside. He barely got Ol’ Crom aimed and the trigger half squeezed when he heard the report and felt the instant burn in his chest, and then he could feel nothing.

‘So this is what it’s like to die’ he thought marveling at the band of sentient swirling speckles of colors shrouding that conscious part of him for the journey to another plane. Just before the colors left him and from far in some almost forgotten distance he thought he faintly recognized another shot. And even from the hollow vacuum of blackness where he was, he could have sworn it was the blast of a shotgun.

He was not awake; he was not asleep; he was only ‘aware’. He was in a total void -- until the ‘dreams’ began. It was the underworld and nightmares about the worst side of death. They were convoluted and disjointed and filled with demons. He yearned to awaken and escape.

“Jaheira… JAHEIRA! I THINK HE’S COMING TO! JAHEIRA!!!” were the first words he heard. But Gods! The shouting!! His head was throbbing violently and what seemed as screaming made it instantly all the worse. He struggled to open one eye. The light was immediately blinding. And he was having a hard time filling his lungs with air. And the sounds… The sounds were magnified to almost non-recognition. What had happened to him? Where was he?

“There you are.” He heard a soothing sweet feminine voice as someone sat down on the side of his bed as the bare movement of the mattress irritated his skin like fire. “We..we thought we had lost you, you know.” He felt her hand gently stroke his cheek. “Welcome back.” He attempted a smile, but none of his muscles wanted to work. They were unruly and inflexible. He tried to open his mouth to speak, but no words would come. He couldn’t see, he couldn’t speak, but he knew he was alive. Thank the gods, he was alive.

“You must rest now,” she said. “Doc Aerie is on her way and she will give you a major restorative. It will help, but you must conserve your strength and finish healing as much as you can on your own,” she explained gently. He barely heard her as he drifted into a peaceful, deep mortal sleep filled with only mortal dreams.

Two days, one major restorative spell and two minor spells later, Paris Chambers finally awoke. Valygar was sitting in a chair by his bedside.

“It’s about time you decided to permanently rejoin the living,” he smiled at him and held a cup of water to his lips. Paris slurped greedily at the water, spilling more down his stubbly chin than he got down his throat. “You had us all worried sick, you know. That momma wolf even said up a prayer for you when I told her what happened. Prayed you would stick around and come and visit her with a couple of jackrabbits when you’re feeling up to it.” He chuckled. Paris smiled -- he could smile! Gods, it felt good to smile again. And, he was hungry.

“Food?” His voice was barely audible, an arid croaking whisper.

“Hungry?” asked Valygar. “Doc Aerie said you would be, but you have to take it a little easy here. Miss Jaheira prepared you some special chicken soup. I’ll go tell her that you’re ready for some,” he smiled. “I’ll be right back.” Valygar got up and left the room. Paris looked around. He could see clearly again! The white starched ruffled curtains, the lace doilies atop the tables and the dresser. Miss Jaheira’s, he thought.

“’Bout time you decided to wake up, you lazy good-for-nothing, shiftless drifter,” the voice said. Paris weakly turned his head to the door. Theo stood with arms crossed, leaning up against the door jam, a grin from ear to ear. Paris smiled as best he could, happy to see the jurist was alive and in one piece. Happy to see his friend. “Jaheira is bringing you some soup. A little divine retribution, I would say… Your turn in the box for making fun of me that first day, remember? You and Val didn’t know that I knew you two were laughing at me behind my back.” Paris actually chuckled. It was a noiseless laugh, but he laughed. How long ago could that have been, he wondered. He had so many questions. So many questions. Theo came in and sat in the chair.

“How.. long?” he squeaked.

“Altogether? Not quite a tenday. Of course, that’s not counting the couple of days you were actually dead, my friend.”

“Tell me.. what..,” he wheezed.

“What happened?” Theo smiled. Paris nodded. “Well, when you went for your gun, Jonny shot you. Thank the gods his aim was just a little off, or we wouldn’t have been able to bring you back. But when he took that shot, Jaheira was able to wrench herself away from him just long enough for me to get a clear shot with that gun Bernard keeps behind the bar – the Equalizer, I think he calls it? I don’t know how I did it, but I hit him right between the eyes. What I couldn’t figure out later was that it wasn’t a ‘normal’ shotgun spray. It was only one bullet.” Theo scratched his head, a look of bafflement on his face. Paris wished he had the strength to tell him what everybody just assumed he must have known. He smiled at him

“I was so scared Paris. I… I had never even fired a shotgun before, and a pistol only a couple of times. The law’s so punitive for ‘judge killers’ that we enjoy relative safety no matter where we are, so I never learned really well.” He paused for a brief moment. “I was down behind the bar digging in one of the coolers when Jonny burst in. I.. I heard Jaheira scream, but I didn’t move when I heard him tell everyone to give up their firearms. Bernard motioned for me to stay down as he and Hendak left from behind the counter. As he did, he brushed the stock of the gun with his foot so I would see it. I crawled over and pulled it from the shelf but I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. Then I lay low there until I caught a glimpse of Jonny holding her through a tiny hole in the bottom panel of the bar. I.. I couldn’t bear to see his hands on her knowing what he had already done to her.” A deep anguish overtook his face as he went on. “I…I just lost my head. I had to do something to save her. So I stood up to confront him. I figured that eventually he would take a shot at me, and when he did, you would be able to grab your gun and take him out.”

“Decoy?” Paris croaked.

Theo nodded. “I know. Not very smart, but I was willing to risk it if it meant you’d have a chance at killing the no good son-of-a-bitch and save Jaheira. Plus, I know how good you are with that thing, Paris.” He nodded toward Ol’ Crom resting peacefully in its holster hung over the back of the chair on the other side of the bed. “Around here, they may not know… but I know. I heard the stories. I just didn’t know it was you until that night just before Jonny came in, when we were talking. But I knew if I could somehow draw his attention, then you could finish him off, and, hopefully, Jaheira would be unhurt. He would be dead and she would be safe. And that was all that mattered to me.” He dug into his pocket and pulled out the shiny black rock that Paris had given him that night. He rubbed it lightly and smiled.

“You picked a helluva time to part with your lucky charm, my friend,” Theo said and put it in Paris’ hand. “Even as a loan. If you would have kept it, I am quite sure I would be the one in that bed now, or worse, dead. I’m…I’m just grateful we were able to bring you back so I could return it and thank you, but I guess I should have never taken it from you in the first place.” He looked up at the brave half-elf and saw a hint of remorse in the Judge’s eyes. But he knew he had been willing to sacrifice his life to save her and for that he was sure there were no regrets for having Paris’s stone at the moment..

Miss Jaheira and Val appeared in the doorway, the latter carrying a small tray. Theo stood and kissed the druidess on the cheek. She smiled and brushed his chin with the palm of her hand. The intimate exchange was not lost on Paris. He looked at Val, and sensing his question, Val nodded and lightly pursed his lips

“It’s my special recipe,” she smiled as she carefully sat on the side of the bed. “Now you must eat to get your strength back.” And she began to spoon feed the broth into his mouth.

“Everyone okay? You’re okay?” Paris croaked to his nursemaid.

“No one else was hurt. The Sheriff had a lump on his head, as did Ano, but they are well. As for me, quite fine, I assure you,” she smiled as she dabbed at a dribble of errant soup. “Thanks to you, and of course to Theo.” Her face was radiant as she looked up at the jurist. It wasn’t just gratitude that Paris saw in her eyes. “The monster is dead, and Khalid’s death has been avenged. His soul may now rest in peace in the bosom of his god. As will mine here.”

Valygar cleared his throat and briefly glanced at the other two before he began to speak. “We did, however, have this one problem, Paris. That is, the fact you died on us. It was a mighty big problem. You were technically dead, and we didn’t want to lose you. I didn’t want to get stuck with having to look after that crazy horse of yours, and Miss Jaheira here never got a chance to thank you for all you did for her, and Theo wouldn’t have gotten to return ‘Reload’ to you. So, we got the priest from the local church of Helm to try to keep you here until I could ride to Ribald’s Junction and bring religious reinforcements, so to speak.” Paris knew Valygar was pussyfooting around trying to tell him something, and it made him terribly uneasy.

“But, Paris… It wasn’t cheap,” Theo chimed in to help. “Val had to pay 10,000 gp to just get the priests from Ribald Junction over here, with no guarantee they could perform the resurrection. So, since you were already technically dead, I legally appointed myself as the executor of your estate and gave Valygar the 10,000 gp that you won from Eddie so he could pay the priests to save your life. Er, well, ‘restore’ your life.” Theo grinned ear to ear. “You know, that was pretty gutsy lying to Eddie like you did. If he ever found out that you weren’t able to cover that bet, he would quarter you like a ripe melon.”

“Money... gone?” His croak sounded like a whine. It was bad enough to lose the girl, but the money, too??? They all nodded their heads in unison. He looked up into his friends’ faces.

“I am entirely to blame, Paris. I gave Theo and Val no choice,” Jaheira said as she ladled the last spoonful into his mouth. “We were not going to let you die and it was the only way. Besides, you will find another card game soon enough after you are healed. And, this will always be your home, so you never have worries about having a roof over your head or food in your belly until you decide what you want to do. Even that obnoxious horse of yours now has his own stall in the barn,” she snorted. Paris smiled, somehow knowing she had finally met Larry. “And, you’re not completely destitute. I think you have about 3,000 gp left. A small stake for a new game, but nevertheless, a respectable beginning.” She dabbed at the corner of his mouth with her thumb. “And tomorrow we will clean you up, and shave that ugly stubble from your face. You will be having visitors who want to thank you and we cannot have you looking as though you have been improperly cared for.

“But for now, it is time for you to rest and heal,” she said and arose from his bedside. She took a small silver bell from her skirt pocket and placed it on the side table. “If you need anything, just ring. But don’t abuse it.”

The three began to file from the room, Valygar at the rear. “I’ll sneak back a little later,” he whispered on his way out.

‘Well, I’ll be damned,’ he thought to himself as he lay in the quietness. ‘Well, I’ll be gods-damned.’ He looked at the black rock then closed his fingers around it. ‘I gave you up for five minutes, and what happened? I lost 10,000 gp, I lost the girl, and I lost my life.’ He stared at the ceiling.

Even in his weakened state, he was beginning to vaguely comprehend there was a bigger picture here, and all that had happened was meant to be. Giving ‘Reload’ to Theo had been dictated by both their fates crossing and co-mingling. It had protected the jurist, and by its absence, Paris had been allowed to ‘die’. He knew somewhere deep inside that he knew why he had to die, but he was too tired to remember.

Something told him the truth of the matter lay hidden in the nightmares he experienced while he was ‘dead’, but they were just a hazy string of ugly imagery that he didn’t have the strength or the desire to investigate at the moment. For now, he would just sleep. Sleep and heal. He closed his eyes to again dream the dreams of mortals. ‘Jonny was there,’ he remembered in his half-stupor, and his eyes flew open.

The End (?)

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