Blackthorn was displeased.
His voice pierced through me as a lance but I stood fast.
"Lord Elowan. Thee stands accused of the unauthorized execution of one Logan; the Honorable Logan in point of fact. How doth thee plead."
"Guilty as charged, milord." It was useless to deny it. There had been witnesses. Dozens of them. The question was for form, nothing more. There was some question about the 'honor' of the late Logan but he'd already been summarily tried and executed so it was moot.
"Thou hast disgraced the Shield and thy Oath!" He roared it out though he need not have. I heard him perfectly clearly. He and I were alone within his study. He does that for effect, methinks. "Doth thee realize that?" He added somewhat more softly.
I hung my head in what I hoped was an appropriate and abject manner. "Aye, milord."
"Of course thou hast disgraced it and thou knowest it, yet thou didst the act nonetheless!"
I did not answer. No answer was necessary. We had already established the fact of the deed. I was guilty of the 'sin' as charged.
"And thou didst do it for the basest of motives personal revenge. And betrayed the principles of The Order!"
"Nay, milord!" I raised my head and squared my shoulders. "Never that! I do protest! I …"
"Protest!? Protest!? Who art thee to protest!? Who art thee to contradict thy liege lord!? Who gave thee leave to speak in any event!?"
He had actually. Our Order was given leave to speak out at any sign of injustice or suppression of personal liberty. And he was the founder and head of our Order. But I chose not to remind him of that salient point. Not at that moment. I am nothing if not astute; nay prudent. There is a time for speech and a time for silence. This seemed a time for silence.
"Well! Speak up man!"
Yes indeed. Here was a pretty situation. My liege was not completely in control of his temper and here I am, content to let silence reign and now I am ordered to speak and ruin the moment. Well … hung for a sheep as well as a lamb I always say … "He was a criminal, milord."
"Criminal is it!? And by whose reckoning!?"
I thought we'd established that. "Mine own, milord. And by the testimony of witnesses."
"Since when have we become a force of policemen!?"
"Since the city guard were made essentially powerless, milord. Especially in cases of this sort. They are bound by the Oath and the Measure. This fellow was polymorphing himself into an orc and enticing gullible and law-abiding citizens to attack him within the Justice Zone. The guards are forced by their Oaths and by the Measure to dispatch the attacker not the provocateur. The law has been drawn too finely, milord."
"And hast thee suddenly become an expert on the law of the Land? Dost thee deny that thee had fallen victim to this self-same scheme?" His use of the word 'victim' gave me to know that he was not completely without understanding. I had scored that point at least.
"I am chagrined to admit it, milord. Mortified in point of fact. This makes the third time to a ploy of this sort but at least the others had occurred when I was in a somewhat more callow state. I fell for it like some wet-behind-the-ears apprentice. A fine example for the newbie I was tutoring at the time. A pointed lesson no doubt; may he profit from it. I knew it at the split second of action and was not surprised when the guard dispatched me though he apologized later. The guards too are uncomfortable with the current situation. I admit to feeling humiliation at the time and not a little rage."
He shook his head sadly. "Thou art a trained warrior and above rage!"
"Oh! Surely not, milord! I pray thee! Prithee do not suppose that I am something more than human!"
He grunted at that and sat down behind his desk. He suddenly looked much older. He waved me to a chair. When I hesitated he said: "Sit!" I sat.
"But thee dispatched him out of hand," he sighed. "That is against the Oath and the Measure."
"That I did kill him I do not deny. That I did enjoy his screams as my axe hacked his rotten carcass to pieces I do not deny either. But I do deny that I dispatched him out of hand. I waited and I bided my time. He was a criminal, milord and of the foulest sort because he hid behind his nobility he used honor as a shield against retribution. I remind my liege that we of the Order are not subject to the Oath and the Measure in any event. We are bound by our own oath to act as our conscience demands and we are not tied to a rigid set of rules as are our erstwhile brethren across the way." I pointed with my chin.
He clenched his fists as my words hit home. "Dost thou presume to lecture me upon the Order?" he hissed. I braced myself but he quickly subsided and held up a hand. "Of course thou dost," he added softly. "As would I, truth be told." He sighed. The silence stretched out for a time. "Am I so transparent, old friend?"
"Nay, milord. I expect that thou art very angry indeed as would I be were the situation reversed. It cannot be easy to sit in that chair. But I cannot believe that thou art blind to what is happening."
"Nor am I. Nor is it easy to sit here. I'm expected to know everything, be everything, and solve all problems."
"I thought that was His mandate." I indicated with my chin again.
"Tush! He cannot do it alone. He needs help and he knows it. But he tends to take counsel of his own thoughts these days and that troubles me." He paused for a moment and then squared his shoulders. "Was he truly as thou sayest, sir knight?"
I nodded. "Aye, milord. And worse. He was aligned with those foul murderers who have been rampaging across the Land and preying upon the weak and helpless. Two of that vermin were with him when he tricked me, milord. But …," I paused. "But I've already dealt with them."
He nodded. "So I've been informed." He tapped a pile of foolscap lying on the desktop. "Thou hast been busy."
"Thou art lucky that thy Shield did not explode and kill thee."
"I removed it first, milord."
His eyebrows went up at that. "So it was not displayed when thou didst the deed?"
I shook my head. "I took care to insure that no one saw the Shield." Not that it mattered. Everyone knew me knew us. The real reason I removed it was to avoid the inevitable explosion sure to follow the deed. I am not a stupid person after all. The Shield has no choice but to act as it does in that way it is like onto the city guards. As it was it simply disappeared from my pack. I could get another one. But the important thing was that it was not displayed at the time. A technical nicety but enough.
"Thee realizes that thou art forbidden the Shield anow?"
I nodded. He motioned me to stand. I did so.
"Very well. Elowan Romulane, Great Lord of Britannia, having been found guilty of the crime of breach of thy code of honor, thy rank of Shield Bearer is revoked. Thou art sentenced to a period of penance during which time thou wilt comport thyself in strict obedience to the Oath of the Order and as otherwise prescribed. When this period has been completed, thou mayest reapply to regain thy rank of Bearer of the Shield. Is that understood?"
"It is, milord."
"Very well. Dismissed." He looked down at some papers on his desk. When I didn't move he looked up again. "Something?"
"Aye," I replied. "It is wrong, milord! We must be released to deal with these scum. They hide behind their badges of rank. Most folk hesitate to act, there being so much at stake. They need direction."
"Most …" he replied, "but not … all?" His smile was grim.
"I was angry, my liege. And frustrated. I am afraid that for a while my emotions overcame my sense of propriety. But, milord, it defies good sense common sense even the sense the Good God gave geese, to continue so."
He nodded. "Aye, so I've repeatedly said to our liege lord. But he remains adamant about the Rule of Law. Still, he has modified his position to some degree. Perhaps, in time, he will come to embrace sweet reason."
"I pray that time will be soon, milord. A great evil walks the Land and I fear it more than any foul creature spawned from the Nine hells. I do confess it."
"Aye, Lord Elowan. I too share thy fears. We can only keep the faith and carry on."
"Aye, milord." I saluted him. "Fare-thee-well. May no new thing arise."
He held up his hand, palm outwards. "And thee likewise. Prithee send in Sir Charles on thy way out."
Note: And so what will happen now with the new changes in the Rule? Will the formation of Virtue Guilds help or hinder? I know not. I only know that time will give us the answer anon. And I am nothing if not patient. But I confess to some skepticism and not a little trepidation.