November is with us, and as you know, I am taking part in the increasingly inaptly named NaNoWriMo (inapt because the 'Na' stands for national - not really appropriate when they boast entrants from six continents). The majority of my posts between now and the end of November will be pre-written and scheduled.
This story was originally posted on 12 August 2014. I hope you enjoy it.
I should probably apologise for this story. It's what happens when I give the rational side of my brain an hour off, and allow the rest to go off on a frolic of its own.
“Sorry. No can do. Your tears aren’t good enough.”
The words echoed around the large, oak-panelled room in the middle of which I was standing. With a height to the ceiling of about five metres, it had tall, arched windows all around at about three metres from the floor, and was devoid of contents, save for what looked like a pulpit at the same level as the bottom of the windows. I was alone in the room, apart from a fearsome-looking woman in the pulpit. She was dressed entirely in black, and her expression reeked of malevolence. A label on the pulpit displayed a single word in large, ornate letters:
That my tears weren’t good enough wasn’t what I expected to hear from the Judger, and it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, so I questioned it, “What do you mean, my tears are not good enough?”
“Simply that,” she replied. “One of your people has been found guilty of stealing. The penalty for that, according to the law, is death by misadventure. There is no right of appeal, although real tears from a person directly related to the miscreant, who is innocent of any and all wrongdoing; and who is, in the judgement of this court, that is to say me, a thoroughly nice, kind, generous and practically perfect example of citizenship; real tears from such a person may, and I stress may result in the sentence being commuted to a life of misery.”
“And that’s supposed to be fair?” I asked, “That’s supposed to be justice? What happened to mercy, to—”
“JUSTICE? MERCY? This has nothing to do with justice or mercy.” She retorted, testily, “That may be what they do in other realms, but here … here … the purpose of this court is to keep order, to maintain the law. And we choose to do that by simple, impartial vengeance.”
“May I approach Your Worships more closely?” I asked, respectfully.
“No, you may not. If you have something you want to say to me, you must say it in the full hearing of everyone here. Now speak up, or go away and leave me alone!”
“But there’s no-one else here, Your Worships; just we two.”
“There might have been others, and I’m sure that if there were, they would have wanted to hear what you had to say. As well as … we don’t know if someone may be hiding in the corners, or under the stairs, or even inside the bottom of my judging box.”
This was not going well. The Judger’s brain had clearly gone out to play, leaving the rest of her to run the court.
I tried polite deference. “If it please Your Worships—”
“But it doesn’t.”
“But if it did …” I said, in a teasing, drawn-out manner.
“What are Your Worships’ reasons for saying my tears aren’t good enough?” I asked; very respectfully, of course.
“You don’t understand the rules at all, do you?” she snapped, “I am the Judger. I don’t have to explain myself to you. You have to explain yourself to me. You have to tell me why you think your tears are good enough. In short, you have to prove to me that you fit the definition of ‘a person directly related to the miscreant, who is innocent of any and all wrongdoing; and who is, in the judgement of this court, that is to say me, a thoroughly nice, kind, generous and practically perfect example of citizenship’. Can you do that?”
“I can try,” I said, resigned to having to do what I had to do to obtain something approaching justice for my sister.
The Judger almost screamed at me, “I didn’t ask if you can try. I asked if you can do it. You must learn to answer the question you have been asked, not one you made up yourself to suit your case.”
“I apologise, Your Worships,” I said with all the humility I could muster, “I shall do that. I shall present my case through a story. If Your Worships will allow, of course.”
“Very well,” she said, her voice sounding as bored as any I had ever heard, “I suppose I’d better let you. But it mustn’t take too long; I’m almost ready for my lunch.”
I began my tale. “Once upon a time, in a land far, far away…”
“Oh get on with it!” she instructed, by way of interruption.
“Sorry,” I said, “I’ll continue.” I paused to gather my thoughts. “A man took his son to the bridge over a nearby river, for a game of Pooh sticks.”
“What’s Pooh sticks? I’ve never heard of it,” she said, “and I know about every game there is.”
“Pooh sticks is a game in which two or more people stand on one side of a bridge—”
“Sounds boring. Carry on with your story,” she said.
“When they leaned over the downstream side of the bridge, the boy disappeared.”
“Disappeared? Where did he go? People don’t just disappear,” she yelled, adding more quietly, “except on the orders of the court.”
“Well, this boy did, Your Worships. He simply disappeared without a trace. His father searched high and low, but could find no sign of him.”
“What was the boy’s name?”
“Does it matter what his name was, Your Worships?”
“Yes, it does.”
That question seemed to enrage her a little more than somewhat. “Because I am the Judger, and if I say it matters, then IT MATTERS.”
“Sorry, Your Worships. His name was Jack. Jack Russell.”
“He can’t have been a very well-behaved boy, with a name like that. Go on.”
I took a deep breath and continued, “Two days later, Jack’s father—”
“Mr Russell”, she offered, helpfully.
“Mr Russell,” I agreed, “was still looking when he saw a young man sitting on the bridge. ‘Have you seen my son, Jack?’ he asked. The young man said, ‘It’s me, Dad. I’m Jack.’ His father—”
“Mr Russell”, she offered, helpfully, again.
“Mr Russell was confused but delighted. Or was he delighted but confused? No matter, he was both. ‘You’ve only been gone two days, Jack,’ he said, ‘yet you have come back much older. How can this be?’
“‘I was taken to another place, Dad,’ he explained, ‘a place where things are very different to the way they are here.’”
“What place?” the Judger asked.
“Does it … yes, I suppose it does. It was a place called, erm, Grintsk.”
“Grintsk… Grintsk. No, never heard of it. Tell me about it.”
“That, Your Worships, is what I am trying to do if you will stop interrupting me.”
“Then make it quick. I want my lunch,” she said in what seemed to be her trademark short-tempered manner.
“If you’ll stop jumping in, and let me tell my story, Your Worships, I promise I will do it quickly.”
“Good. Carry on,” she said, her voice and face betraying that she considered she had won a minor victory.
“‘In Grintsk, the way they enforce their rules is very different to the way it is done here,’ Jack said to his father – Mr Russell,” I gave her my most steely expression at that point, daring her to interrupt again. She didn’t.
“‘In Grintsk, anyone caught stealing can avoid harsh punishment if they return the stolen goods in good condition, apologise to the owners and to the court, and do some work for the people from whom they stole the goods. The length of time that they must work for them varies according to the value and nature of the goods stolen. If they can’t return the goods, they have to work for the people a good bit longer’”
“No one dies?”
“No one dies.”
“That’s not much fun, is it?”
“It’s not meant to be fun, Your Worships, it’s meant to be justice,” I explained, “anyway; Jack had lived under these rules for about fifteen years. When he explained our ways to the people there – they call their judgers magistrates – they said that we were clearly primitive and barbaric.”
“What does barbaric mean?” the Judger asked, “I don’t know that word.”
I saw my chance here, so I gave her a suitable definition; one that might give her pause for thought. “Barbaric, Your Worships, means cruel, unsophisticated, uncivilised, uncultured; that sort of thing.”
I could almost see the steam coming out of her ears, as she bellowed, “Uncivilised? Uncultured? Unsophisticated? We are the very epitome of culture and sophistication. I’ll show those Grintsk people what civilisation and culture mean.” She cupped her hands and yelled towards the door at the far end of the room, “Bailiffs! Release the miscreant.”
I looked up at her and said, “I don’t see the miscreant. Where is she? What have you done with her?”
“Oh, she’s probably escaped,” she replied, “they usually do.”