The trial of JyslynCouncil Hall, Wildwood, the Sylvan Forest
Kazimier paced in the Council Chambers. As much as he wanted, needed, to go with Jyslyn to the Central Garden, Matriarch Starpetal had ordered him to wait for her. There were few people Kazimier wanted to be on the wrong side of, and his own Matriarch was on the top of that list. The wait, though, was excruciating. Kazimier couldn't understand why, though. The dark elf was still a mystery to him. She was nothing like the tales told of her kind. The very idea of one of the Accursed atoning for a past wrong threw Kazimier.
At long last, the door to the inner sanctum opened. Matriarch Starpetal, flanked by her aides, glided out. "Kazimier, walk with me."
Kazimier fell in step behind the matriarch. "Is there a decision?"
"Not in here, Kazimier." She stopped walking to shoo away her aides, then resumed her pace. The matriarch led her young charge out of the Council Chambers, taking a meandering route through the Hall. "Kazi, what is your impression of your prisoner?"
Kazimier took time to form his thoughts before answering. "When I first saw her, she was in need of help. Since then, her behaviour has been ideal. If all prisoners were like her, the entire Watch would need to find new jobs."
"Do you believe her, Kazi?"
"I-- I don't know, Matriarch. She doesn't say much about herself, but I did believe her reason for being out of her caverns. But, if she killed anyone, she didn't do it for bloodlust."
"Do you believe she can kill?"
"She had the killing blow on the cave bear, and she may have killed one of the gnolls during the ambush. She can kill, Matriarch, but can she kill wantonly?"
The matriarch turned to face Kazimier. "That is the question in my mind, Kazi. You are blessed by the Lightbringer with insight. Matriarch Moonflower would blame your prisoner for the death of every elf since the War of Splintering. Matriarch Eaglebough is backing her."
Kazimier's head fell. "They want her executed."
"At this point, Kazi, it's not if your prisoner is executed, but how."
"Matriarch, I ask for mercy for Jyslyn. She wouldn't think of it, but if she is to die, make it fast. Please."
Matriarch Starpetal nodded slowly. "I agree, Kazi. I will try to fight Matriarch Moonflower's desire for blood with reason. Walk an old lady to the Central Garden, would you?" Kazimier linked his arm with the matriarch's.
The Council Hall had its own view to the Central Garden, letting the Matriarchs enjoy the site without having to leave or mingle with the crowds. Several of the other matriarchs were already in balconies overlooking the Garden. Matriarch Starpetal claimed one for herself and Kazimier, sitting down on an ornate bench. Kazimier remained standing. He spotted Jyslyn and Kaleena in the centre of the Garden. Jyslyn knelt down to touch a blue flower while Kaleena kept watch around.
A crowd slowly gathered near the Council Hall. Matriarch Oakfeather emerged from her office on to her private balcony. She called for the prisoner to be brought out. Kaleena urged Jyslyn to stand, then guided her to a dais in view of the Hall. The din of the crowd grew as people began shouting at the dark elf, cursing her.
Matriarch Oakfeather slammed a mace hard on her railing. "Silience!" she called. The shouting died to a murmur, then ended. "The Council of Matriarchs have come to a decision. The Accursed elf, Jyslyn, has admitted to the slaughter of the village of Two Creeks. Of the twenty-three who lived there, only one escaped. The rest were found, their bodies mutilated. The one survivor has not spoken since the village died. For this, there can be only one penalty. Death."
The crowd began shouting again. An apple flew from the crowd. Kaleena batted it away from Jyslyn before it could hit. "Enough!" Matriarch Oakfeather pounded her mace her railing several times before the crowd stopped. "The manner of execution has been left to Matriarch Starpetal."
Kazimier stared as Matriarch Starpetal got to her feet. "Matriarch, you knew when you asked me about her."
Starpetal shushed her young charged. "Council of Matriarchs and our people, I have but one request. I ask that the prisoner be executed cleanly. She should not suffer. That is not our way."
Dissent rippled through the crowd. Matriarch Moonflower stood, glowering at Starpetal. "And what of justice for the villagers?"
"If we give in to our desire for revenge, we will be no better than the Accursed who raid us. No, Matriarch, a clean death."
"It is so ordered," Oakfeather said. "The Watch will send someone to perform the execution. One quick slice across the neck. Captain of the Watch, you will have the prisoner lay down on the dais."
Kaleena grimaced, but followed her orders. She helped Jyslyn on the dais, making sure that the dark elf's dress did not bunch. A second member of the Watch marched out, hand on his sword. A commotion began in the crowd. Kazimier leaned over the balcony, fighting the urge to leap over and put himself in between the executioner and Jyslyn.
A young woman with honey blonde hair burst out from the crowd, tearing away from arms trying to hold her back. She ran past the Watchman and leaped on to Jyslyn. "No!"
Matriarch Starpetal held up her hand. "Hold!" She pulled back Kazimier. "Go down and make sure nothing happens to your prisoner."
Kazimier gave the matriarch a quick bow, then dashed back into the Council Hall. It took him a few moments to get out of the building and to the dais. The executioner had his sword half-drawn, but kept his distance away from the dais. Now closer, he recognized the young woman. "Matriarchs, it's the survivor of Two Creeks!" He knelt down beside the woman. "You can't be here."
Jyslyn raised an eyebrow. "Is this normal?"
Kazimier tried to place his hand on the young woman's shoulder. She shrugged him off. "No!"
"Kazimier," Kaleena started, "Little Wren hasn't spoken since she was found."
"I know." Kazimier knelt down, bringing his face down to Wren's. "Wren, do you recognize this woman?"
Wren nodded. "Don't kill her."
Perplexed, Jyslyn said, "I was at the slaughter of your village."
"You saved me."
Kaleena pulled herself up to her full height. "That's it. Corporal, stand down."
Matriarch Oakfeather called for order. "I want to see the prisoner and Wren in Council's chambers."
Kazimier again put his hand on Wren's shoulder. "Jyslyn isn't going to die now." He eased the young woman down from the dais.
Wren pulled away from Kazimier. She wrapped her arms around Jyslyn's. "She saved me," she repeated, her voice raspy.
"I don't . . ." Jyslyn's voice trailed off as she looked down at Wren's face. "You."
"Let's go," Kaleena ordered. "The Matriarchs don't like to be kept waiting."
With the help of her corporal, Kaleena herded the small group inside. Wren maintained her hold on Jyslyn. Kazimier led the way through the Council Hall's corridors. Inside the Council's chambers, he remained in the centre at Jyslyn's side.
Matriarch Oakfeather called the Council to order. She ran her fingers through her light blonde hair. "While it is good to hear our Little Wren's voice, her outburst has now complicated matters."
"This is an outrage!" Matriarch Moonflower slammed the table with her open palm. "This is a trick by the Accursed to tear us apart!"
"By leaving one elf lass alive thirty years ago in the hope that she would still be here when a dark elf just happens to be found by one of our patrols?" Matriarch Starpetal laughed. "That is leaving a lot to chance, Matriarch."
Moonflower pointed at Jyslyn. "Do you admit that you're here to destroy us?"
Jyslyn's expression remained impassive. "I do not."
Oakfeather stood. "Enough!" She glared at Moonflower. The contest of wills ended when Moonflower sat back down. Oakfeather faced the prisoner. "You said that you killed people in Two Creeks. How many lives did you take?"
"I did not keep count, Matriarch. There was no need to keep count."
Kazimier stepped forward. "If I may, Matriarchs. You're asking the wrong question."
Oakfeather sat. "Please, if you have the correct question, ask it. Let us get to the bottom of the mystery."
"Kazimier, don't ask questions you don't want the answers to," Jyslyn said.
"Jyslyn, did you kill anyone at Two Creeks?"
"Why else would I be there?"
Kazimier sighed. He turned to Wren. "Can you tell us what happened to you that night? No one here will hurt you, I promise." The priest shot a glare towards Matriarch Moonflower.
Wren's voice began soft. "It was dark. I was sleeping when I heard a noise. There was screaming, so I ran and hid. I heard people talking, but couldn't understand them. Then she," Wren nodded to Jyslyn, "found me." The young elf's voice cracked.
Jyslyn rubbed Wren's hands. "You're doing well, little one."
"You -- she -- had a knife in her hand. She saw me and came over. I saw her face." Wren looked up at the dark elf. "You were scared, too. You couldn't kill me."
"Jyslyn, did you kill anyone that night?" Kazimier asked.
The dark elf's eyes met Wren's. "No." She stiffened. "No, I did not kill anyone that night. Imagine that. My sisters and brother took me out on a rite of passage, a slaughter. They were happy to bring me. Yet, I found this little one and I could not kill a helpless child. I heard my brother coming, so I cut myself and claimed my blood was hers."
Kazimier flashed a smile at Jyslyn before facing the Council. "Matriarchs, condemning Jyslyn to death for murders she did not commit is not justice."
"I agree," Matriarch Eaglebough said. "But she was still involved in the slaughter."
"Jyslyn, you lied to your brother about killing Wren. What would have happened if you told him the truth, showed him that Wren was still alive?"
"He would have killed her instead." Jyslyn gave Wren's hand a quick squeeze. "He then would have told my eldest sister, who would have punished me upon our return underground. My sister is very enthisiastic about punishing others."
"By being in Two Creeks, you saved Wren's life." Kazimier returned to Jyslyn's side. "You said you came up to the surface to atone. Why did you leave your home?"
Jyslyn glared at the priest. "I do not see why I left has any bearing on this tribunal."
"When I found you, you were lost. The Lightbringer may have guided me to you, but he left it to me on what I saw. I did not see you as a killer, cutting down anyone in your way. Nor do I see you as a threat to Wildwood. You had many opportunities to escape and took none of them." Kazimier's tone softened. "Again, I ask, Jyslyn, why did you leave your home?"
"Have you ever been someplace and felt that it was wrong? That it went against every fibre of your being to be there? I wished that I could have stopped my siblings from going to that village. I am but one person and I couldn't stand up to my eldest sister then. That's why I left, because my home wasn't my home, it was utterly wrong being there."
Matriarch Moonflower snorted. Why did you not stop your siblings?"
"Because, Matriarch, my eldest sister is ruthless and my second eldest is viscious. I did not have their skills with weapons then to stop them or defend myself."
Oakfeather banged her gavel. "Matriarchs, it is obvious that killing the prisoner is grave injustice. Still, she was at Two Creeks the night of the massacre. A just punishment is still required."
Kazimier held up a hand. "If I may, Matriarch Oakfeather?"
"We have gone far with your questioning, Kazimier. Do you have a suggestion?"
"I do, Matriarch. Jyslyn should become Little Wren's protector for five years. I will take responsibility if she runs."
Oakfeather regarded Jyslyn and Wren. "Little Wren, do you agree?"
"I do, Matriarch." The young elf nodded.
Kaleena stepped forward. "Matriarchs, this is close to slavery."
"Agreed, Captain," Oakfeather said. "During the period where the prisoner is Little Wren's protector, the young woman is to provide for the dark elf's needs such as food and clothing. I trust that Little Wren won't have a problem with this requirement?"
"No, Matriarch," Wren said.
"Then so be it. Captain, remove the shackles from the dark elf."
Kazimier moved out of Kaleena's way. The Captain of the Watch removed the manacles from Jyslyn's wrists and ankles. Before Kaleena could get out of the way, Wren hugged the dark elf. Kazimier patted Jyslyn's shoulder. "Welcome to Wildwood," he said.
"We will talk, Kazimier," the dark elf said.
"I look forward to it."
A Watch guard burst into the chambers. "There's humans at the East Gate, Matriarchs. One needs a healer."
Kaleena ran for the door. "Kazi, come with me!"