Journey to the South: Twenty-One of Thirty

Posted: February 22, 2013 in Fiction
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     I could only stand by helplessly as Cuahuatec was led up the steps of the furca to the gibbet, head bowed and weeping loudly, crying his innocence to any who would hear him. I will not lie: tears ran down my face as I watched him prodded across the stage at spear-point to where the noose hung. They slipped it over his head easy enough – whether they had found his goggles or not, they had not returned them to him. I do not know whether that was a kindness or not. He would not have seen the crowd gathered before him, blinded by Tulaar’s light as he was, but neither would he be able to see me mourning.

    I would like to think that had he been able to see, he might have taken some small comfort in knowing that at least someone believed him.

    I stood in the midst of many legionaries, along with some of the citizens of Nev, not far from the building that housed Legatus Ovrai’s quarters and office. The father of the slain girl stood near the furca, yelling slurs and invectives at the blind Gromothim, only quieting when Ovrai ascended to the stage and held up his hands for silence.

    “As you may know, there was a murder in the town this morning. A young girl of only nine summers was brutally slain and found in a pool of her own blood by her father,” Ovrai said, gesturing to the man at the fore of the gathered crowd. “But, one stroke of luck was given to him: he saw his child’s murderer fleeing.” The Legatus pointed a finger at Cuahuatec, the Gromothim’s head bowed in resignation. “This murderous beast here.”

    “I am innocent!” Cuahuatec cried out again, his eyes bruised and closed. “I hurt no one!”

    “Then why did you run?” Ovrai asked scornfully. “If you are innocent, then why did you run when I came to question you?”

    “Only the guilty run!” cried out the father, and several in the crowd echoed his sentiment.

    “I swear to all the gods – Above and Below – that I did nothing!” the Gromothim cried out desperately. “I ran because I was afraid.”

    “Afraid to face justice!” The father yelled. “Hang the demon!”

    Again, many in the crowd cheered and echoed his calls. I stood there as this happened – impotent, rageful, and distraught. I had begged Legatus Ovrai for mercy, for clemency, but the bigoted officer would not hear of it.

    “A child is dead, Ambassador, and you would have her killer walk free?” He had sneered at me in his office after his legionaries had taken Cuahuatec off to be made ready for his execution.

    “Of course not, Legatus,” I had said, imploring him. “But I still maintain that you have the wrong person.”

    “Person?”  He had asked me incredulously. “If that beast out there is a ‘person’, than I am a rutting sow. I am putting a mad dog out of its misery, Ambassador. Just be glad that I am not bringing charges against you for not keeping your pet on a chain.”

    With that, he had ordered me from his office as he had no more to say to me. And so, I had waited by the carriage until the execution was announced and the crowd began to form. There had been no message from Atam, though at the time I had been pessimistic that anything the Decurio had found would change the that this doomed ship was on. Cuahuatec was going to crash upon the rocks and die, and all because of my navigation, my steering. I stood there and watched as the gathered townsfolk and legionaries clamored for the Gromothim’s death.

    “And so, with the power invested in me by Moynama Pahnot Gharan Udo, through the offices of the Imperial Legion, I condemn this vile creature to death by hanging. May Jailii judge you accordingly.” The Legatus turned, nodded to the executioner, and walked off of the stage as the legionary who would deliver Cuahuatec’s end pulled the lever and the trap door underneath the little Gromothim male fell away.

    There was a sickening crunch as Cuahuatec’s neck snapped, then body simply swung softly from side to side, limp. I turned and walked back toward the carriage, trying to maintain composure as my mind replayed those few seconds: the door opening, Cuahuatec falling, then his body swinging. I leaned against the door of the carriage and beat my fist against it softly, and that was how Atam found me when he came riding up.

    “Amabassador Kii,” he said, slowing his horse until he stopped near me, “I have good news.”

    I turned and wiped the tears from my cheeks. “It is of no use, Decurio,” I said to him. “Cuahuatec has just been hanged.”

    Atam looked from me to the furca, the shock evident on his face. “I…,” he trailed off, before shaking his head slightly and continuing. “I am sorry, Ambassador. I investigated the matter as quickly as I could…”

    I held up a hand to quiet the Decurio. “I do not blame you, Lilu,” I said. “You did what you could. Unfortunately, Legatus Ovrai did not care. He seemed predisposed to execute Cuahuatec whether the Gromothim was guilty or innocent.”

    “That is unfortunate,” Atam said, “as I have a witness who would testify to the fact that the slave was innocent, for they saw the true murderer.” He gestured behind him to an old woman sitting side-saddle upon the horse of one of his legionaries.

    I gasped. “Who? Who was it?”

    “This woman says that she saw the father of the girl throw a bloody knife into a well near his home. His clothes and arms covered in blood. He seemed quite calm until he returned to his home and began wailing and calling attention to the matter.”

    I looked past the edge of the carriage to the furca and saw the father at the head of small group throwing stones at and spitting upon the corpse of Cuahuatec. “Quickly, Lilu, have your men take him and let us go show the Legatus the inadequacies of his ‘justice’.”

    The Decurio followed my gaze and issued the order, helping the old woman down off of the horse and I led our trio back into the offices of Legatus Saffrit Minjohn Ovrai. The Legatus frowned at me as we entered the outer office, where he stood talking with his aide. “What is it now, Ambassador?” He asked with an exasperated tone. “I will warn you: you are beginning to try my patience.”

    “Patience?” I asked him incredulously. “I was not aware that you had patience, Legatus. What with the hurry you were in to judge and execute my slave. The Decurio here has a witness – this old woman – who will testify to the innocence of the late Cuahuatec, executed by a miscarriage of justice. In fact, she has a good idea as to who the murderer actually is. Is that not correct, madam?”

    The old woman nodded, shuffling closer to where I stood. “It is true, Legatus,” she rasped out. “I saw Ugesh, the girl’s father, dispose of the weapon used to kill the girl – himself and his clothes covered in blood – before he raised the alarm that she had been murdered.”

    Ovrai stared at the woman with narrowed eyes, his gaze flicking briefly to me, before moving past me to opening doors where the father, Ugesh, was being dragged in by Atam’s legionaries.

    “What reason would a father have to murder his own daughter…?” Ovrai asked, cautious.

    The old woman shrugged. “He has been known to get into gambling debt,” she said. “Perhaps the death was the payment required by one the criminals he is indebted to. Perhaps he has taken up worshiping the dra’ash, those old demons of the desert. All I know is what I saw, sir.”

    “What?!” the father cried as he was pulled before us by the legionaries. “How…?!” He looked to Ovrai. “Lies, sir! This crone spreads lies about me. May you rot on the shore of the River of Pus, you bitch!”

    Legatus Ovrai frowned. “Take him to the cells,” he grumbled. “We will look into this before we move forward.”

    “Good,” I remember saying, my voice icy. “Mayhaps you will execute the right person this time.”

    “Now see here–” Ovrai began to say, his face turning red with anger.

    “No, you see here, Legatus Ovrai,” I roared back, the fury overflowing from me so much that I felt Atam’s hand on my shoulder, restraining me. “You have put an innocent to death this day, with no attempt to make sure that you had the real criminal until too late. Be certain that I will be letting Dux Harim Gharan Loati know of this at the soonest opportunity.”

    The name of the Commander of the Legions made the Legatus pause. After a moment, he simply nodded curtly to me and retired to his inner office. Atam gently pulled me back and turned me, guiding me out the doors and back to the carriage.

    “Come now, Ambassador,” he said as we stepped outside. “It has been a long and harrowing morning. There is nothing more that we can do here.”

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