Noble Responsibilities; A Tale of Chastity

Noble Responsibilities; A Tale of Chastity

Since I’m about to wrap up my series on the Wandering Mountains, I decided it was time for a new project. When I asked my Facebook group which character they’d like to hear more about, they almost unanimously chose Rose.

After my Seven Deadly Domerins series, I played around with the idea of another series of Heavenly Virtues prompts. I only ever did one in the past, and they’re an interesting group of traits to consider. But I write a lot about Domerin (as you may have noticed) so I wanted to dedicate the project to someone else. At first, I wasn’t sure if I had enough available Roses to make it work. No one has quite as many incarnations as Domerin. But after considerable thought, I managed to find just enough.

So here is the first of the Heavenly Roses, featuring the virtue chastity, which is defined as: discretion of conduct according to one’s state in life.
. . .

This was not the first time Princess Rose Drathmore observed her mother’s court arbitration. It was, however, the first time she had requested to attend court hearings. Thanks to her strange dreams, she had come to believe a critical event would take place during the queen’s dispensation of justice. One that would have a more positive outcome if the princess was personally present. And having long since grown familiar with her daughter’s odd abilities, the queen didn’t hesitate to accept.

In general, the princess considered matters of the court to be dreadfully dull. Their drama was largely manufactured. Thus, most of the cases they brought to the Hall of Justice were likewise petty and unworthy of consideration. Why her mother agreed to hear so many was beyond her, and Rose had braced herself for a long afternoon of trivial arguments. But learning how to properly arbitrate one of the kingdom’s highest courts was part of the rigorous training regimen designed to prepare her for the day she took the throne. Which meant that, sooner or later, she was either going to have to cull the cases this court accepted, or learn to at least pretend she cared.

Today, she accomplished the latter by skimming the schedule, looking for the case that might have drawn her here. Her intuitions would have been more useful if they ever provided context for what she was meant to do. At least when her dreams included visions, she usually had a specific event to orient on, something to watch for or avoid. Today, she was working on sheer intuition, on a sensation that lingered when she woke that morning, a strong sense of urgency that drew her first to her mother, then to the court she would be arbitrating for most of the day.

It took effort not to crinkle her nose and stick out her tongue at the brief, one-line descriptions of most of the cases. The Duke of Reedmire was annoyed with the Duchess of Selait because she had claimed fields that were well within his territory. The Countesses of Brakenbridge and Obsidian Grove were squabbling over some chalice they each claimed was an ancient family heirloom. Rose’s eyes continued to skim the names and their grievances until she reached the midway point of the list.

Baron Redmill versus Crescent. No last name had been given for the latter, nor any kind of title. Probably because he had neither.

And suddenly, Rose understood her grander purpose. Resisting the urge to smile, she set the schedule down and tuned back in to the first round of complaints, waiting to see how her mother would respond.

She doubted she would ultimately handle noble disputes the way her mother did, doubted she would ever be able to take seriously the accusation that a pair of ladies kept hiring clever thieves to slip into each other’s manor houses and make off with a priceless relic that both claimed had significant meaning to their families. Instead, she thought she would create some other forum where nobles could spend their time squabbling so that she could hear those cases of true import that involved members of the noble class. Though it would be some time before she could institute such a declaration.

She was ready scream by the time they reached the case she was interested in. The fields had been split between the Duke of Reedmire and the Duchess of Selait by the ancient method of post markings. The queen had offered one of her own to mark the original measurements and dole out the appropriate fines. Neither had been thrilled with the ruling but both had been forced to accept it.

Meanwhile the quarreling countesses had been ordered to produce the chalice in question, as well as their family’s historical records regarding its care and keeping, so that the queen could decide for herself what should be done with it. Rose suspected that the artifact was a fake, long since stolen by a real thief and replaced with a replica. Either that, or there was some other reason these women wanted it, something they could do with it that they didn’t want others aware of. Something illicit, no doubt. But since their ambitions were bound to be as petty as the squabble, Rose had no interest in following up.

Her eyes were riveted on the doorway when they opened to reveal Crescent and the Baron Redmill. The two could not have been more different.

The baron was dressed in crimson silk, his waistcoat high-collared and embroidered in such an intricate golden embroidery, the princess could barely stand to look at it. Beneath it, he wore ebony trousers, and over it he wore a golden amulet encrusted with a ruby half the size of his palm. He leaned on an intricately carved wooden walking stick as he made his way up the central aisle and lowered himself delicately into the plush chair waiting for him. His long, ebony hair had been left to flow freely over his shoulders and he tossed it slightly out of his face with a small flick of his chin as he sat.

The other figure was smaller, just barely taller than five feet, if Rose judged correctly. His skin was fair and his eyes were two pieces of sharp jade. His short crop of blond hair was a wild mass of tangles and his clothing was the simple garb given to prisoners, the sort that tended to rub the skin raw and possessed not so much as a hint of pockets that could be used for hiding weapons. There were dark creases beneath his eyes, but he carried himself with quiet dignity, lowering himself into the waiting chair with more grace than most in his position would have been able to manage.

A moment passed during which the courtroom shuffled. A group of three expensively dressed lawyers made their way to the Baron’s side, opening their briefcases on the table in front of them so that they could shuffle papers between themselves. A great show, but a useless one. A fourth figure joined them, dressed in a fine suit but, still, somehow eclipsed by the finery worn by the rest.

On the other side of the courtroom, less than ten feet away, a lawyer in a plain business suit lowered himself into the chair beside Crescent and fixed his tie. He seemed nervous. He had probably never been in this particular court before and was probably worried his credentials wouldn’t hold. But Rose doubted he would have to say much.

Into the other chairs beside Crescent lowered three people in Queen’s Division uniforms. The woman and one of the men were unknown to the princess, but the final figure she could have identified from half a mile away.

Domerin Lorcasf, a man whose career she had been watching with great interest since the first time they met. But of course it would have had to be him who won Crescent’s way into the Queen’s Court. He didn’t have the credentials to make the request himself.

Unlike the previous cases, Rose listened with great interest as the legal teams began to reveal the details of the case. True to her prediction, it seemed Domerin had requested that the queen hear Crescent’s case on the basis that he feared no other judge could serve without bias in a case between a commoner and nobility. She would have to remember that when she came to power; it was a fine point.

What interested her most was the manner in which Domerin had made his petition. As a member of the Queen’s Division, he and his family had a right to access the highest court in the land. His service alone gained him the right.

But Crescent was not a member of his family. Nor did the two of them appear to be bound by any kind of legal engagement. So, despite Domerin’s plea for justice – and despite his wearing of the uniform – Domerin did not come here today as a member of the Queen’s Division. His petition had been filed as an Earl of Mistborn; a title he used rarely and preferred to avoid. He had listed Crescent as of great personal significance – a polite way of expressing the two of them were in a serious relationship.

A small lie. The princess might not know the two men personally, but she knew that Crescent wasn’t seriously bound to any of the men or women he often accompanied. As an escort, it would be corporate suicide to admit he was in a long-term, committed relationship. Then again, being thrown into prison for assaulting a baron was likely to be equally career-ending.

Domerin had been incredibly careful not to outright lie on his petition. In most cases, the princess would have assumed he was simply attempting to maintain his job should the case go poorly for his associate. But Rose knew better. Domerin didn’t like to abuse his position. He couldn’t justify making use of the Queen’s Division for personal reasons, so he had leaned on his blood relation to one of the kingdom’s most powerful Archmages instead. He must have deemed it a smaller abuse of power, one he could swallow without losing sleep. And it made her marvel that such men still existed in a world as corrupt as this.

The session was called to order, and the queen cleared her throat.

“According to the official case files in front of me, Baron Redmill alleges that Crescent illegally broke a contract with him on the night of the fourth, then assaulted him when he offered protest. Is that correct?”

The baron slid to his feet. “That is correct, your majesty.”

The princess pinned him with a shrewd look and he momentarily shrunk in the face of her star-eyed gaze. Few could stand to be within her focus for longer than a few seconds, a fact she was well aware of. Yet she let her eyes linger on the man, wanting him to believe she could see directly through his soul. The fact that it made him tremble seemed to indicate he had something he wished to hide.

The queen ignored his reaction to her daughter’s gaze, having long since grown used to it. “Would you please provide a more detailed account of the night in question?” she prompted.

“C…certainly,” the baron stammered. Rose waited until he had begun to fidget to shift her gaze elsewhere, focusing on him indirectly instead. He cleared his throat, lifted his chin and squared his shoulders.

“On the night in question, I had hired Crescent to attend a particular ball with me. It was a small gathering, your majesty, unworthy of your notice, but many of the social elite were in attendance. Afterward, Crescent was to accompany me back to my manor and provide certain services. But when the moment arrived, he balked. I reminded him how much money I was paying for his services, and how destructive it would be to his reputation if he were to deny me. Evidently this frightened him and he decided to silence my complaints with physical violence. I have provided pictures of the result, though my house mage has since healed the hurts.”

“Of course,” the queen replied, her tone dry, as she sifted through the available evidence to peruse the photos in question. The bruises appeared to be genuine, but photos were easy enough to doctor.

“And I assume you refute this accounting of the exchange?” Rose’s mother turned her eyes on the accused, inviting him to speak.

The baron lowered himself back into his seat with a haughty sneer as Crescent stood. For his part, Crescent bowed as low as he was able with the table in his way. He also kept his eyes on the floor when he spoke, perhaps knowing he dared not meet the gaze of royalty in such a place, perhaps aware that any form of ego might reflect poorly upon him. “I do, your majesty. On the night in question, Baron Redmill did, indeed, hire me to accompany him to a ball and then return to his manor. He had made use of my services before and I believe he was well-satisfied. But when we reached his manor, he requested something of me that was not included in our original contract. I gently reminded him of the agreement we had made and expressed that I did not wish to extend it to include the particular services he requested. At that point, the baron grew upset and threatened my reputation. Because I did not wish to escalate the situation, I removed myself from the premises. It wasn’t until two days later, when the baron publicly accused me of having assaulted him, that I learned of the marks on his skin.”

“And can you produce a copy of this contract?” the queen replied, her tone expectant.

“No, your majesty,” Crescent admitted without hesitation. “As you can imagine, given my line of work, most of my clients prefer not to leave tangible evidence of our association. It is a matter of privacy and I have never had cause to deny that request. Verbal agreements have served me well, until this juncture.” A hint of a weary smile graced Crescent’s lips.

Rose tilted her head so that she could watch her mother consider this new information. Despite the differences between them, her mother was as good at concealing her true feelings as any other player in the court game. Unless she wanted one of the men sitting on the platform below to have some idea what she was thinking, her expression would remain inscrutable throughout the conversation. At length, she cleared her throat.

“Crescent, the Baron of Redmill has been granted confidence by the crown. That is why this court is willing to hear and consider his testimony. It is generally considered that those granted confidence by the crown come before it in good faith. Since you have been granted no such honor, tell me why this court should consider your words to have equal weight?”

Rose frowned; she had some opinions about that sentiment. First and foremost, the crown had never extended this particular baron their trust. They had, instead, extended it to some blood ancestor long ago, and it had simply fallen to him by luck of birth. Secondly, where matters of justice were concerned, everyone sitting before the judge should be considered equally in the right until someone could prove otherwise.

But if she spoke now, she would do Crescent a disservice. So she pressed her lips into a thin line and waited for his response. Meanwhile, the baron grinned like a cat who had just caught a canary.

Crescent opened his mouth slowly, as if he were fighting to find words to answer the question. Before he had a chance to stutter, though, Domerin Lorcasf slid to his feet and adjusted the shirt of his uniform. “Your majesty, please forgive me if I speak out of turn. I am Commander Domerin Lorcasf and I have served as a member of your Queen’s Division for nearly a century.”

“I am aware of your service,” the queen replied with a nod. “And thankful for it, Commander Lorcasf. You have never given me a reason to doubt your loyalty or integrity.”

The dark-skinned elf dipped his head to this honor, allowing a respectful moment to pass before he spoke again. “If it pleases you, your majesty, I would like to vouch for Crescent’s honor. I have known him at least fifty years and I believe you can trust that his testimony is truthful.”

The queen nodded and Domerin returned to his chair. The other members of the queen’s division stood in turn and repeated something similar. The man’s name was Rilan Moore and the woman’s was Valia Stormcrow.

When all three of them had returned to their chairs, the queen said, “Each of you is willing to stake your honor on that of this man?”

As one, they nodded.

“Very well,” the queen replied, and Rose saw Crescent’s shoulders sag with relief. “If three of my own are willing to vouch for someone, he must be of worthy reputation indeed. Baron, how do you intend to prove that you speak truth?”

The baron cleared his throat imperiously as he stood, and Rose had to clench her teeth to keep from commenting. “Why, your majesty, I anticipated this turn of events. So I brought with me a guild-registered telepath willing to certify that my testimony is truth.”

As Baron Redmill motioned to the plain dressed man sitting at the far end of the table, Rose suddenly understood his ploy. It was generally considered impossible to lie to a telepath. It could be done, of course. Those who practiced the art of deception could learn to truly believe anything, which would allow their lies to pass unnoticed even to a telepath’s inspection. Depending on the strength of their talent, at any rate. And because of this, telepaths were rarely questioned when they offered testimony. Certainly the crown had never needed to demand that one telepath check another for truth of claim.

The queen turned her eyes back to the accused. “And you, Crescent? What do you offer as proof?”

“A guild-registered telepath to confirm my testimony,” he admitted, somewhat sheepishly, nodding to the woman who had just vouched for his honor.

The queen pressed her lips into a thin line, giving her first indication of emotion since the proceedings had begun. “We cannot have two different telepaths offer opposing accounts of truth. If one of you is willing to lie, we shall have to discount telepathic evidence.”

Crescent’s shoulders slumped again while the baron seemed inordinately pleased. Perhaps he had anticipated Crescent’s attempt to defend himself and had merely meant to counter it, never actually requiring the telepath to lie. Or perhaps he had bought off a member of the guild; in which case, the crown was going to have to investigate further. They couldn’t have corrupt telepaths offering false testimony in life or death trials.

But it no longer mattered. Rose understood now why her instincts had guided her here.

“Mother,” she said softly, “perhaps I can offer an alternative?”

Her mother hesitated only a fraction of a second before she nodded. “I would gladly hear your suggestion.”

Rose raised her voice so that it would carry through the small courtroom. “Since both of the telepaths in question are known to be in good standing, and since both of the people involved in the case have the confidence of the crown, we would seem to be at an impasse. However, as an impartial and unbiased party, I would like to extend my services. You see, I am a telepath of some skill and I believe the crown can trust me to speak truth.”

“It would be an elegant solution,” her mother agreed.

“Would you consent to open your mind to me?” Rose’s eyes fell first on Crescent.

He had lifted his gaze, mostly out of shock, and he lowered it again when she looked at him. But unlike the baron, he did not tremble beneath her scrutiny. It was possible he had grown used to her gaze during their previous encounters. It was also possible he was relieved that he wouldn’t simply be thrown back into the dungeons. But to her, it suggested brutal honesty.

“I would, your highness,” he replied. “And gladly.”

Rose nodded and turned her gaze back on the baron. His lips formed a thin line, their press so heavy the small slash of his mouth had gone white. He trembled, either with barely repressed outrage or fear, but he managed to keep from protesting.

“And you?” Rose said, ignoring his reaction. “Do you consent to open your mind to me, Baron Redmill?”

“Is this really necessary, your highness?” His voice cracked when he spoke. “My family has a reputation to uphold. The mere idea that we would lie to the crown is absurd.”

“Then you have no reason not to submit to my probe, do you, Baron?” Rose replied, offering him a sweet smile. She had been told that her sweet, girlish smiles had grown creepy as she blossomed into womanhood, the odd state of her eyes making them seem empty and cold.

The baron swallowed hard. “Of course, your highness,” he admitted, bowing his head. “I consent to your request.” He had no choice, after all. Unless he wanted to admit that he was lying.

Rose nodded. “Then all you need do is open your thoughts to me and I will soon reveal who speaks truth.”

The baron glanced in Crescent’s direction, but Crescent merely bowed his head.

With merely a thought, Rose sent her mental hands spinning in their direction, brushing light as a feather against their surface thoughts. Already she could tell who spoke the truth and who wished to deceive. But it would not be enough to simply make the statement. No; the baron was just haughty enough to accuse her of bias, possibly because she had been seen dancing with Crescent at several balls over the past few years. Her fascination with him would be difficult to deny. But if she probed deeper, she wouldn’t have to offer a defense.

With practiced care, she delved into their minds until she found the confrontation in question. It wasn’t difficult; they were both thinking of it, Crescent with some desperation to find a detail he hadn’t already revealed that might prove his innocence, and the baron with an anger that nearly sent her reeling.

When she had both accountings firmly within her grasp, Rose lifted her right hand from the table. She flicked her fingers through an odd series of quick gestures, guiding her magic as it took form.

Rather than recount what she saw within each man’s mind, she used her magic to pull it free, making it visible to all who watched. Ghostly figures took shape, each connected to the forehead of one of the men, as though their thoughts had jumped to life.

The confrontation played out much as both men agreed it had begun, with the baron making a most scandalous request and Crescent politely refusing to fulfill it. But soon their accountings diverged. The baron spewed hateful vitriol at Crescent, threatening to destroy his reputation and his livelihood along with it. Crescent weathered the storm calmly and, when it subsided, informed the baron that his services would no longer be accepted in the future.

Rose allowed the ghostly images to continue their dance until Crescent had left the house and the baron had run through his study breaking several of the precious objects he had on display. Though no doubt he had asked his house mage to put them back together by now.

The ghostly images faded. Crescent breathed a sigh of relief. There was no hint of vindication on his face. And he didn’t look to the baron, instead turning his gaze in Domerin’s direction, sharing a moment of silent triumph.

“This is outrageous!” the baron cried, throwing himself to his knees. “Whether or not he assaulted me, this man extorted me for money and then refused to provide the services he claimed!”

“Shall I go back further?” Rose demanded coldly. “Shall I pull the contract from your minds and see what it contained?”

The baron blanched.

“I’ve heard enough,” the queen proclaimed, raising both hands. “Crescent, you are free to go, and with the crown’s apology for the time you were wrongfully held. The baron will pay restitution for the loss to your business-“

“I most certainly will not!” the baron snarled, shooting to his feet. He snatched his walking cane from the side of the table and lifted it above his head.

Instantly, the guards near the front of the room leapt into action, placing themselves between the queen and perceived danger.

But it was not the queen Baron Redmill moved toward; it was Crescent.

There were still three members of the Queen’s Division sitting beside him, though. And all three were as much on duty as any of the guards so long as they wore their uniforms. All three were on their feet, moving as quickly as the guards. But instead of moving toward the queen, they moved toward the assailant, ready to stop the assault no matter who it was aimed for.

Domerin drew his sword with lightning speed even as he slid between Crescent and the baron. The walking stick broke neatly in half. The lower portion spun into the audience while the upper portion slid from the baron’s suddenly numb hands.

“That’s quite enough, Baron Redmill,” the queen snarled, shooting to her feet. “If you are going to act in contempt of this court, perhaps you deserve more than a mere fine for your actions.”

“But he is a commoner, your majesty. He is not worthy of restitution from noble blood! His lot exist to serve. Is that not so?”

“It is not,” Rose said softly, rising to her feet. Something about the way she spoke caused everyone to relax. The guards loosened their formation and Domerin sheathed his sword. All eyes turned toward her, even the queen’s.

“In ancient days, the nobility were granted lands and titles because of services they fulfilled for the monarchs. It was generally understood that they were in touch with the people who populated the lands they governed and, thus, could provide for them better than the  monarch. So all noble titles come with a trust, a responsibility. That the noble will fulfill the will of the monarch, but also that they will watch over and provide for their people. If the monarch has need, those with noble titles will answer. But if the people have needs, the noble will carry those pleas to the ears of the monarch.

“So you see, Baron Redmill, the common people do not exist to serve you and your whims. It is the opposite.”

“Well spoken, my daughter,” her mother said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Noble titles persist because the crown remembers the great deeds of your ancestors. But if you have lost touch with those you are meant to govern, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the titles you hold.”

“Please, your majesty,” the baron pleaded, sinking back to his knees. “I have acted as any noble would. Why do we have a separate court if we are not considered above the lowborn?”

“Perhaps it would do the baron well to experience the life of those he considers lower than him,” Rose suggested softly. The words were meant for her mother, but they carried to the baron’s ears, causing him to whimper.

“Indeed, Daughter. Your wisdom impresses me. Let that be his punishment. Baron Redmill; I strip you of your lands and titles. When the crown has finished paying the debt owed to your victim, the rest shall be redistributed to one more worthy of the title. One who can, perhaps, remember the responsibilities about to be set upon their shoulders.”

The queen turned to her daughter then and set one arm across her shoulders. “I believe we’ve heard enough for one day. This court is adjourned.”

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