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About the author:
Thomas K. Krug III lives in Skippack, Pennsylvania with his beautiful fiancé, Caitlin. He studied Communication at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, only to quickly realize the futility of a career in newswriting, instead choosing to devote his writing skills to novels. When not whittling away at sequels, he’ll either be glued to his Xbox or sipping bourbon–always on the rocks. He put the finishing touches on his first book in Afghanistan, where he served as a junior officer in the United States Army.
What inspired you to write your book?
Reading Fantasy, of course! I’ve been a fantasy lover ever since my early teens. After years of following my favorite authors, I decided to embark on a world-building expedition of my own.
Here is a short sample from the book:
They called it the Blind Chamber, because that is what justice is supposed to be: blind, benevolent. The palace’s forgotten architect had taken to that theme with enthusiasm. The chamber was circular, representing the equality of all men before the law. The overlarge windows cast about the light of wisdom no matter the time of day. The imposing columns lining the walls were the bulwark of law that kept chaos and anarchy at bay. On the vast bronze doors shone Elessa’s Wings, a reminder of her mercy and all-encompassing forgiveness—and on the marble-tiled floor, a mural of Ancel’s fist, a reminder that mercy can go only so far.
Right now, Marcus wished God’s Aspects would show enough mercy to bring the ceiling down on his head.
The plaintiffs had been at it for what seemed like hours with their damned bickering. Two men stood on the floor before the Hearing Council: one, a pale vintner, and the other, a hook-nosed trader.
“Defective bottles!” the vintner cried, pointing an accusing finger. “You knew they would break!”
“A completely baseless accusation!” shouted the trader.
“Says the man who referred me to the bottler!”
“Sir, did you in fact know,” Grand Hearer Jerome de Isnell demanded, “that your associate’s bottles were of inferior quality?” Isnell was a giant of a man—in the sideways sense of the word. Though the hearers’ bench concealed most of his bulk, his spotted jowls quivered with each syllable he spoke, and his drooping cheeks gave him a permanent frown. For Marcus, he was an easy man to dislike. For anyone standing before the bench, an easy man to fear.
The trader feigned indignity. “I do not see what this has to do with me. My purview is the transport of goods, not the—”
“Sir, answer the question!” barked the grand hearer.
“I suspected.” He muttered it, but the stone room amplified the reply. The murmurs of the nine other hearers—which, with Marcus and Isnell, made eleven votes in all—smacked of relief rather than concern.
Sensing the end was at last near, Isnell shifted his enormity forward in his seat. “And you failed to notify your client that his wine bottles were inadequate? Bottles from a man you recommended?”
“I did not know for sure that the bottles would shatter, merely—”
Isnell’s glare of spent patience shut the man up.
“I did not inform him.”
“Then surely you took additional precautions to ensure the security of the defective bottles?”
The trader glowered. “I packed the crates with hay. I tied them down in the wagons. I do not know what else one would expect me to do.”
The vintner snorted. “Run an honest business, perhaps?”
“Silence!” Isnell’s great chest rose, fell for a moment. His narrow eyes flickered back and forth between the two men. “Very well. I am prepared to render judgment.” His eyes flicked left, right at the other hearers, his gaze lingering distastefully on Marcus. “Does the assembly agree that evidence is sufficient to decide a verdict?”
“Aye,” Marcus chorused with the rest, tiredly.
“The grand hearer’s opinion is thus…” The scribe hunched in his little partition of the bench renewed his efforts; the sound of quill scratching parchment intensified. “Gerard Bucknell’s demand for recompense from Horace Renigan is carried. It is deemed that Mr. Renigan violated the mutually-signed contract which promised safe delivery of Mr. Bucknell’s goods. By encouraging Mr. Bucknell to purchase inferior bottles from his associate, Mr. Renigan willfully endangered Mr. Bucknell’s merchandise, thus annulling the contract. It is this grand hearer’s opinion that Mr. Renigan compensate Mr. Bucknell—in full—for the price of shipping, the price of the bottles, and the anticipated profit gained by sale of any wine lost in transit.”
By now, the trader was quite paler than his erstwhile associate. He had aimed to win a few more coins with his dishonest venture—just like every other already-rich bastard who had tramped through this court today—but had come out quite a bit poorer than before.
A moan of dismay rose in the trader’s throat.
Isnell spoke over him, “In addition, this court holds Mr. Renigan in contempt for his failure to speak truthfully and submit proper evidence—a failure which cost the court an inordinate amount of valuable time. Mr. Renigan will therefore deduct ten percent from the gross sum owed Mr. Bucknell and pay it to the Royal Treasury.”
The vintner’s face fell at that; the trader paid his opponent a sneer of lingering defiance.
“Does this court agree with the grand hearer’s opinion?”
Again, a chorus of ayes. As Marcus gave his, the trader met his eye, desperate—but Marcus gazed back evenly. After half an afternoon of watching this bastard pulling parchment after parchment out of his fine coat—just to cite some new regulation to hide behind—sympathy was hard in coming.
“Majority reached!” announced Isnell, banging his gavel. “Sirs, I bid you a good day.”
The trader whirled and strode from the chamber—quickly enough that his shoulders brushed the gilded doors’ edges as they ground open. The vintner bowed, then took his leave.
The doors shut with a loud thud. Suddenly, the eleven hearers were alive again—stretching, chatting, calling for wine.
“How many more, Weston?” Marcus asked the servant behind him. He had reflexively memorized the man’s name at the start of the proceedings.
“Just the one, my lord prince,” said Weston, offering a waterskin.
Marcus accepted it gratefully. One more hearing, and he was free. He found himself wondering if his mother had enjoyed this duty any less than he did. Almost definitely, he decided. It was a meritless task, this—an entire day spent listening to men trying to cheat each other out of their money. Had he paid any attention at all, Marcus may have been treated to an onerous lesson on tax law, contract terminology, technicalities of every conceivable kind.
As it was, it was all he could do not to draw his sword and leap onto it. That perseverance alone deserved a medal.
Apart from the sheer boredom, this whole thing chaffed at his dignity. Crown prince, heir to Elessia’s throne—and his power to judge these bastards was diluted to just one vote out of eleven. Bad enough for a prince; for a queen, it must have been humiliating.
“One more,” he muttered. Until next week. Already he itched for the practice courts. Swordplay was infinitely simpler than bureaucracy. When he was king, he would have a legion of quill-pushing administrators to worry over this for him.
And his noble peers would be forced to acknowledge his presence. His fellow hearers had been pretending not to notice him all day.
Three booming knocks sounded from the doors. “To order,” Jerome de Isnell called. The chamber quickly settled down, the nobles eager to be finished with their day. Marcus handed the waterskin back to Weston with a weary smile and turned back to the floor.
The doors cracked, then opened at the behest of two straining guards, pushing with all their might. Behind them walked a sneering, pointed-faced man whose blue tunic and silver gorget marked him out as a chief constable. From a poorer quarter, judging by his blade’s worn grip.
That, and the shackled man stumbling along in his wake. He was gaunt, though his ill-fitting clothes suggested that he had shrunk dramatically. Obviously he had not seen the light of day for some time—pale, filthy, uncut hair and nails. Yet for all the misery of his appearance, his eyes made their way defiantly and methodically from the guards, to each hearer, to Isnell… to Marcus, who frowned, wondering what had brought a man of obvious character so low.
“My lords,” greeted the constable with a tip of his plumed hat. He came to a halt before the grand hearer, bowed deeply.
“Your names and business.” Isnell sounded even more bored than before.
“Roger Constable,” the sneering man replied, “and my prisoner, Jebril Carpenter. We come on grounds of appeal.”
“Execution, my lord. This one is due to hang on the morrow.” The hearers may have murmured on learning that a vintner had been cheated out of his money, but no one seemed overly concerned that this shabby man with a common name would soon be dead. More than one was staring longingly at the door.
“On which grounds?”
“Theft of the king’s property.”
For the first time, the condemned man spoke. “Of bread,” he hissed.
The constable immediately whirled and backhanded him across the cheek. “Be silent, convict!” he yelled as the smack echoed. “You speak when you’re given permission!” He bowed again to the benches. “Apologies, my lords.”
But Marcus was standing. “You will not strike that man again,” he growled. “This is a court of law, not a dungeon.”
“That,” Isnell snapped, “is sufficient, my lord prince. I thank you for your concern.” Though his thanks sounded more like a curse. “Mr. Constable, this man has no one to speak in his defense?”
Marcus felt his temper rising as he dropped into his chair. Isnell allowed a man to be struck in his supposedly-esteemed court, yet refused to give him the courtesy of addressing him directly?
“But for himself, no, my lord. He refuses to be represented. Wanted to refuse the appeal, too, but it’s the law.” True enough—all condemned men were entitled to a final appeal, voluntary or not.
“Very well.” At last, Isnell turned his attention to the convict. “Mr. Carpenter. Do you have any evidence of your innocence?”
The constable cleared his throat. “With respect, my lord, there’s no need to trouble with evidence. I have here,” he produced a folded parchment, “a confession, signed by this man. His guilt is beyond refute.”
Marcus looked incredulously between the constable and the grand hearer. He wanted to speak up, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe that this was truly happening.
Isnell seemed to have no qualms. He thumbed his gavel impatiently. “It seems then that this proceeding is one of mere protocol. So, Mr. Carpenter, you are entitled to a last word. You may speak.” He raised his brows, waiting, but the man just stood there and stared back with contempt smoldering in his eyes. After a while, Isnell sighed. “I am prepared to render judgment. Does the assembly agree—”
“No!” Marcus shot to his feet, drawing miffed looks from the rest of the hearers.
Lord Isnell was no exception. “The court,” he pronounced with incredible disdain, “recognizes the honorable Lord Prince Pilars.” A few of the old men smirked, but Marcus couldn’t have cared much less, given the events of the past three minutes.
“Mr. Carpenter, if you would, state your crime.”
The convict clenched his jaw, as if to bite back futility. “I stole the king’s bread.”
Marcus snorted, though his humor could not have been more forced. “Hang a man for stealing bread! Well surely this is a special case. You must deserve it somehow. So what, did you sneak into this palace and snatch the bread off the king’s table?”
“Where from, then?”
“The dole wagon. I lifted out the dole wagon.”
An elderly hearer peered down the row at Marcus. “Theft from the dole is theft from the king. It’s bought with royal gold, after all. This man’s guilt is beyond questioning.”
“Beyond—” Marcus scrubbed his jaw in aggravation. “Beyond question? Is this not a dole we speak of? Bread gets doled from the wagons, it isn’t sold. Are we truly weighing the merit of hanging a man, for taking something freely given?”
A number of hearers exchanged looks. “My lord, are you unaware of the Grain Exchange Tax’s extension?” one inquired. “A tax that we must levy on those who benefit from the dole, so as to prevent our government from bankrupting itself.”
“Tax? Since when?”
“Approved but a fortnight past, in this very chamber.”
Marcus stared incredulously. Barely more than a fortnight ago, his mother had been alive. She had bought bread with coin from her own pocket, given it to the people from her own hands. Then she died, and men like these had undone her deeds before her corpse had even cooled.
He must have stared for a while, because the grand hearer cleared his throat and asked, “Have you any more questions?”
“Yes.” He turned back to the convict. “Carpenter, that is your profession?”
“It was my father’s name, sir.” He had seen salvation glimmering. Now that fragile promise was fading, and the desperation was clear in his cracking voice, even if his face was too filthy to show it. “I have no profession.”
“But your scars, the ones there on your arms, and that one on your face—were you not in the war?”
“I was, yes, m’lord.”
“You have a veteran’s pension, then!” The hearing council’s patience was thinning. They shifted and glared, but Marcus ignored them.
“A pittance, m’lord. Enough only to pay my rent.”
“So you must choose between a roof over your head and a meal in your belly?”
“No, my family’s!”
The grand hearer had been restless for some time, but at last he could bear it no longer. “My lord prince! This man is proven guilty! These questions are of no consequence! Our duty is not to question why the laws are broken, only to carry out the law when it is!”
“What about your duty as an Elessian, man?! If Elessa herself sat in this chamber beside you, would she not have asked these same questions?”
“Blasphemy!” squeaked a hearer. “He dares compare himself to blessed Elessa!”
Marcus shouted down to the convict, “Mr. Carpenter, who depends on your pension for their food and shelter?”
“My wife!” he bellowed back, fighting to be heard over the rising clamor. “And two young daughters!”
Marcus bolted to his feet, straight as a lance, and rammed a fist down on the bench sill. The chamber was shocked into stillness. “Damn you, this man hangs tomorrow! At least hear him for a moment longer!” He inhaled, exhaled slowly. “Mr. Carpenter, at long last, why did you steal the king’s bread from the dole wagon?”
The man looked him in the eye. That hollow gaze was back. This was the end, they both knew it. There wasn’t a blessed thing either of them could do to change it. But Jebril Carpenter swallowed, clenched his jaw, and intoned in a voice barely audible, “My daughters, they always cried. Wasn’t bad in the day when they had stuff to do, but then at night, they felt the hunger. I tried to find honest work. What work is there to be had in a city? Old man like me?” He shook his head sorrowfully. “I couldn’t feed my daughters. Then one night… they didn’t cry anymore. They knew it wouldn’t do them any good.” He stared at the floor and nearly whispered, “I did what any father must.”
For the longest time, the Blind Chamber was silent. Still as Queen Geneva’s tomb.
Marcus moved first. He stepped to the aisle, then down to the tiled floor, followed by ten pairs of noble eyes. He stood before the manacled prisoner. He nodded once—a soldier’s nod. “Forgive me.”
Carpenter blinked, nodded back. Then he looked past Marcus, past the men about to condemn him—ready to meet his fate, cruel though it was.
Marcus faced his peers. He had felt hatred before—for the Glats, for Jaspar, for himself even—but never as keenly as this. Death was too good for the lot of these men. “Blessed Elessa once said, ‘From virtue is born law.’ May those words live forever, my lords.” He met each man’s eyes in turn. Few could hold his gaze. “I name this man innocent of these charges. God damn any of you who say otherwise.”
He spun on his heel, a picture of military precision and resolution, and strode for the chamber doors. Elessa’s wings shone, then split in two as the doors blundered apart.
“Does the court acknowledge the aforementioned verdict of innocence?”
“Nay.” “Nay.” “Nay.”