Amery sat with his chin resting on his folded arms in front of him, leaning on the wooden balcony rail overlooking the lecture hall floor below. The stage at the far end of the long, cavernous lecture hall lay empty, splotched with colorful light from the huge, rose window shining above it.
To anyone seeing the lecture stage for the first time, they would find it strange. There was a rolling chalkboard, but it had been put aside for the trial, and what remained looked more like a set for a play than anything academic or judicial. The stage was arranged like a comfortable sitting room, with three pleasantly upholstered, wingback chairs facing a lone podium which made it so anyone standing at it would have his back to the audience. A turkish rug covered the floor where the chairs were, and a short, central table lay set with tea things.
Amery glanced down to the assembly below, packing the pews and filling the enormous chamber with a constant, droning murmur of politely subdued voices. Few of the congregation assembled in the lecture hall were of the class restricted to the balcony, namely the fishermen from the wharf and the east-side farmers. Amery was aware of his status as a man fully in his rights to sit wherever he pleased, but he made a point of it to sit with his friends in the balcony. Vincent sat close to Amery, his hands folded on his lap, and his face looking miserable. Apprehensively, he leaned in toward Amery and asked,
“Where’s Rafael? I didn’t see him come up.”
“He’s testifying.” Was Amery’s curt reply.
“Testifying?” Vincent said a little too loudly, causing Hermon to smack him on the head from behind with a pamphlet. Vincent lowered his voice and said again,
“Testifying? Against his friend?” Amery sat back in his chair with a serious face.
“It certainly would appear that way, but appearances can be deceiving.” Vincent eyed the ground with clenched jaw.
“What a rotten, disloyal thing to do.” Vincent muttered through his teeth. Amery turned his head and fixed Vincent with a charitably patient stare. “You really don’t know Rafael, do you?” Vincent glanced up but failed to make eye contact, and sat back further in his chair, forming an implicit negative. Amery let his eyes wander back to the brilliant, ancient rose window across the lecture hall as he continued. “Before Annabel died, Captain Amos was one of the greatest sea captains on the wharf. He gave up sailing the day he got the news that his daughter had died. At that time, Rafael had every reason to break off their acquaintance, but instead, he chose to take care of the old man.” Amery pursed his lips and furrowed his brow, repelling a sudden wave of emotion as he concluded,
“Rafael is one of the most self-sacrificing and honest men I’ve known; which is why I don’t believe he will condemn an innocent man.”
Vincent said in a quiet, chastened tone,
“I’m sorry I said that.”
“It’s alright. You know the truth now, or at least what I believe is true. It will be put to the test soon.”
“My brother’s testifying too.” Vincent said in a new, ambiguous voice. Vincent turned to look at Vincent, who looked thoughtful, though with narrowed eyes.
“I know.” Amery nodded solemnly, dropping his eyes to hide an unsupressable contempt for Martin. “What do you think he’ll say?” Amery asked.
“I can’t say, really. I don’t know my brother that well anymore.” For the first time, Amery began to feel sincere sympathy for Vincent. He knew very little about their family, but knew there was no mother, and the father was a patron of the College. In a flash of empathy, Amery had a glimpse into a life empty of true companionship, and a childhood scalded by the absence of love. On top of this, Amery suddenly felt a sour conviction for his recent thoughts of Martin. Was he being fair to Martin, and would sowing distrust between two brothers be fair? Amery knew Rafael looked up to him, but in reality, Amery had learned more from Rafael about honest conduct and fairness than the Schoolhouse and the College had taught him combined. With these things in mind, Amery said,
“I’m sorry about your brother, but don’t be too hard on him.” Though his voice was low, the other had all caught what Amery had said and he could hear them all turn to look at him with mild astonishment. Amery continued and Vincent listened, “Just because someone has wrong convictions doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve our respect. He’s doing what he thinks is the honorable thing, and there’s something to be said for a man who goes out of his way to do his duty, even though it hurts him.”
“You mean to say you approve what Martin is doing, convicting an innocent man,” Aldous interjected, “on that grounds that he’s ‘doing his duty’?” Like always, Amery was quick to respond,
“Each man can only see so far on his own. Martin may not fail in performing his duty, and for that I commend him, but he fails in seeing it.”
There was suddenly a thunder of rustling, shifting, and fidgeting as and whole congregation rose to their feet. They boys followed and Amery leaned on the rail, looking to the stage where three figures had just entered, and were walking toward the three chairs. He knew them all at a glance, as anyone in Lerga would know them. They were the three Hearthbrows. Amilia Hearthbrow, Richard Hearthbrow, and Redwick Hearthbrow, all children of the great Bartholomew Hearthbrow whose statue stood in the Market Junction.
The crowd became dead quiet as the three of them silently came to stand in front of their seats. They were followed by two you servants who began to pour their tea, and once they had they quickly left. In the quiet of the lecture hall, one could hear the buzzing of flies and the slow, monotonous sound of the clock high up in the steeple.
Amery had become as familiar with Amilia Hearthbrow’s stringent expression and ramrod figure as though she were his own mother. She had taught almost every Schoolhouse class he had attended since he was old enough to attend. Discipline and timely work was her mantra, and she drilled it into her students with a long, rigid ruler she was seldom parted from.
Amery had had less experience with Richard Hearthbrow, though for the time he had attended Lerga College lectures, he had almost exclusively listened to his. It was his doctrine and strong views which had finally convinced Amery to drop out.
The third Hearthbrow sibling was someone Amery had never actually had contact with, but knew by reputation and some rumor. Redwick was gaunt and sturdy man, younger than the other two by only a couple years. His face was clean-shaven and perpetually bent with an enigmatic grin which would make any first-time observer assume he would not speak english if he spoke. He wore round spectacles over his small, sharp eyes. He was the head of the scientific branch of the College, seldom left the laboratory, where most speculated he slept and ate his meals. Many believed he was psychologically damaged during the war, which was why he spoke so little. But Amery saw something sinister in his silence, and his quick, quiet way of speaking when he did speak, his voice never over a whisper.
Richard Hearthbrow had just finished saying for the whole assembly to hear,
“All rise!” Now that everyone was risen, he opened a folded sheet of paper and began,
“We will now recite the Lerga Creed.” He cleared his throat and continued in an antediluvian voice, “Hear the truth, all ye who have ears.” The crowd followed along, while Amery and the other boys kept their mouths shut. “You are the faithful and the fortunate, spared from the Reckoning by the wisdom of our mothers. See the truth, all ye who have sight. You dwell in the field of the living, sown with the knowledge of our fathers to reap a harvest of power. Smell the truth, all ye who have scent. You will know the fragrance of perfection in the elevation of your minds.” He folded the paper again and said in conclusion, with eyes turned to the congregation,
“May this trial bring to light the deeds done in the dark.” With that, the three of them sat, and the crowd followed their example.
Rafael remained standing backstage with Martin at his side. Black-gowned students hastened around them, making arrangements and dashing off on errands. Rafael looked at them with objectless envy, wishing abstractly to be free of his unbearable situation. He felt hot, his palms sweated and he knew his face was red.
“Don’t try and rehearse anything you’re going to say up there, just answer their questions and tell the truth, simple as that.” The lack of anxiety in Martin’s voice enflambed Rafael’s own.
“It would help if I knew what kind of questions they’d be asking.” Rafael said, with no sincere hope of a helpful answer.
“Don’t worry about that. They’ll be the right questions. Just be brief and to the point.” Rafael’s heart did not stop racing as he looked out onto the stage from behind the curtain. Martin grinned and gave Rafael a nudge, saying with subdued enthusiasm in his voice,
“So what did he say to you?” It took Rafael a moment to switch thoughts back to what Richard Hearthbrow had been speaking to him about. He turned and faced Martin, saying a little absently,
“Oh, he just wanted to say…” The strangeness of what he had been told came back upon him as he explained, “he said the College had had their eye on me for a while, and they wanted me to enroll.” Martin’s face lit up and grabbed Rafael by both the shoulders with uncontrollable excitement.
“That’s stupendous! What else did he say?” Rafael couldn’t help but smile a little with pride as he continued,
“Well, he also said I wouldn’t have to worry about the cost of tuition.” To this, Martin’s gleeful excitement crystallized into sober amazement.
“Rafael, you don’t realize how big this is.”
“Yeah, it’s an incredible offer.” Rafael began, unsure how to not seem ungrateful while all his thoughts and emotions gravitated toward the trial at hand. “I told him I’d definitely consider it.”
“Consider it?!” Martin roared in bewilderment. “There’s never been an offer like it in the history of the College. It’s a huge concession to make!”
“Yeah, I know.” Rafael replied curtly, becoming a little irritable. “I said I’d consider it; what’s gotten into about all this College stuff. Last I checked you weren’t a member, at least not officially.” An ironic smile slipped over Martin’s face as he leaned in confidentially. Rafael instinctively moved closer to Martin, who said in a lowered tone,
“Don’t tell the others, but…I’m a member of the College.” Rafael stepped back with astonishment. He stammered once, then said in bewilderment,
“You…when? When did you join?” Martin laughed a short laugh with amusement in his eyes as replied,
“I hope it’s not that surprising. I’ve been going to lectures for years. To answer your question though, I was initiated last night, and not just as a common student.” Here he became even more confidential, as he leaned in to say, “The Hearthbrows saw it fit to make me a white-cloak; like you they saw my potential.” Though Rafael knew very little of inner operations of the College, he knew to be a white-cloak was one of the College’s highest honors. Martin continued, “And Rafael, I’ve never known myself as well as I do now..It’s like, I don’t know…” Here he shrugged with a smile which convinced Rafael he was serious, “It’s like being in love I guess. You become at home with yourself, you can finally see clearly. Trust me, you don’t want to pass up this opportunity. It’s once in a lifetime!”
Rafael, who had found it hard to focus on what Martin had been saying at first, now found it impossible to think of anything else. Martin’s words had had less impact than his demeanor. Rafael found himself thinking for the first time, ‘Maybe there was something to the College’. It was evident from Martin’s implicit behavior that a place in the College, meant understanding, insight, peace, and even power. A rational thought rose up to support Rafael’s increasing desire to join. That in joining the College he would be, in a way, forwarding the Vault of Silence’s mandate for discovering the truth.
“I’ll let you think about it.” Martin interrupted Rafael’s train of thought. “I know some of the others aren’t keen on the College, especially Amery. But until you make up your mind, it can be our secret.” His smile broadened and he gave Rafael a jab on the shoulder.
Both their attentions were stolen by the a voice from the stage, speaking to the crowd.
“The tragedy on Baker’s Hill has great implications of the health of our society.” Amelia Hearthbrow’s shrill voice reverberated throughout the lecture hall from where she was now standing in front of her chair. She spoke with painstaking articulation, every word consciously chosen and executed with piercing clarity. The congregation anticipated her words with scarcely a breath among them. “There is a disease on the face of our beloved island, which was inherited from the devastation of the Reckoning…And this disease is familiar to those of us who know the laws of our island and the principles by which those laws are given authority.” Here she paused and let her gaze waft over the crowd from left to right like a winter wind. She then spoke louder and clearer than before,
“The forbidden practice of music, the unlawful accumulation of secret knowledge, and the general practice of dark arts are among some of the lesser crimes committed by the victim and the accused, in an unholy partnership which resulted in the brutal murder and incineration of the hermit known to us as Boethius.”
The crowd immediately rumbled into a unanimous murmur of agitation, as Amilia Hearthbrow continued, “And this vile blackness goes deeper still, into the very roots of our community. Quietly, and behind closed doors, these forbidden practices are being carried on in secret to undermine the foundation of our beloved island.” The crowd gave a low roar of indignation. Amelia’s fiery monologue would have continued, fueled by the approval of the crowd if Richard had not discretely reached up from where he sat and gripped Amelia’s hand. Her rigid body relaxed a very little, and she continued in a gentler, more domestic level of voice.
“It is in the interest of our cherished citizens, that I have the misfortune of bringing these truths to light. But for the sake of our children and our future, we can no longer ignore our enemy. As long as there are such vipers among us who practice such detestable and destructive arts as music and dark sciences, there cannot be safety for us nor our children.” The crowd erupted into an almost violent wave of applause as Amelia resumed her chair with a subtle and contented smile.
Immediately after she sat, Redwick rose to his feet and in an instant the crowd was deathly quiet again. Rafael had never heard Redwick speak, and evidently no one else had either. The lecture hall was filled with silence like a mist. Redwick began to speak, with a mouse-like voice barely audible, but just loud enough to understand if one strained to listen,
“It is our collective desire that the people of our island would watch for and report suspicious persons, suspected of practicing the aforementioned forbidden arts.” Here he paused and adjusted his spectacles. “The peace of our island was not obtained without sacrifice, this was something our father knew very well. Outside our island is nothing but chaos and death, you, the fortunate few are beacon of light. If you claim to be with us in the light, you must join in the war against the dark. Therefore, it is our responsibility to make known your responsibility as citizens is to report any and all criminal behavior, that our island may be rid once and for all…” Here his shrill, small voice rose to its peak, “of irrational supernaturalism.” His paused again, then concluded in a very quiet voice as he resumed his seat, “Your compliance will be rewarded.”.
The crowd again surged into a wave of applause. Without standing, Richard Hearthbrow cleared his throat. Rafael knew they were going to call up Amos. His palms began to sweat afresh.
“Please bring forth the accused.” A moment of unbearable silence ensued. Rafael felt his heart pound in his chest as he looked across the stage, to where the opposite curtain accessed the stage. Suddenly, Rafael could see the shape of two men approaching the stage, leading a third by the arms. As the figure of Amos came into the light of the stage, lead by two of the Marshal’s deputies, the crowd flew into a storm of hatred. Shouting, booing, and curses filled the air as the quiet captain was ushered to the podium to face the council. Rafael was stricken by the captain’s composure; he had never seen his face so calm, though his characteristic sternness had intensified and made his expression like stone. He paid no mind the the fury of abuse pouring from the crowd at his back, as he faced his accusers.
Rafael felt again with renewed potency, his unconditional loyalty to the captain. When Rafael looked at the captain, standing in the face of wrongful conviction, hopeless of redemption, he did not detect a trace of fear. Instead he saw the solidified conviction of the enthusiasm Amos had displayed back at the house. Rafael could tell Amos was set in his thoughts and would not budge, even if it meant death. He also knew that nothing the captain could say would save his life, only Rafael’s own testimony could have a prayer of doing that.
The deputies stepped back from the captain, though remaining close with hands clasped behind their backs. Amelia rose to her feet again, and began the trial. She unfolded a piece of paper and said to the captain,
“You will remember you are under oath to tell the whole truth.” The captain gave an almost undetectable nod. Amelia eyed him skeptically, then glanced down at her paper, saying, “What was the nature of your association with Mr. Boethius?”
“He was my dearest friend.” Amos rumbled in reply. Amelia glanced up at him again, and returned her eyes to the sheet of paper.
“And were you in the habit of traversing to his residence on Baker’s Hill?”
“Yes, he refused to come into town so I had to…” Amelia cut him off sharply here, saying loudly,
“You are not here to try and justify yourself. Simply answer my questions!” The captain clenched his jaw and his eyes became severe as he said through his teeth,
Amelia looked at her paper again then said sharply,
“And in the middle of the night?”
The captain opened his mouth to explain, but Amelia shot him another scalding glare. Amos’ eyes burned as he said again through his teeth,
“Why only at night, if you please?” There was a long pause in which the captain’s eyes grew uneasy. He hesitated to speak, then finally said,
“Because I’m a busy man, and that was when I had a chance to get away.” A faint smile crept into the corners of Amelia’s mouth as she continued, half-humorously,
“It must be very difficult, walking through the woods at night. Did you ever bring company with you?”
The captain’s eyes lifted above his accusers, up toward the large, rose window, and rested there. A kind of calm came over them and he said,
“So you mean to tell us…” Amelia began on a note which denounced any real rebuttal, “that you consistently journeyed to this hermit’s home, at night, alone?” Her voice implied more guilt than the evidence supported. Even still, the captain nodded his head calmly and replied,
Amelia firmly folded her paper again and said stiffly,
“Well, that’s all I have to say.” She sat down, and Richard stood up, immediately unfolding his own paper. All the while the captain kept his eyes fixed on the window, the calm never leaving his face. Over recent days, Rafael had become aware his tendency to blame all the captain’s odd behavior on drink. The captain’s rapid shifts in behavior were too unpredictable to be attributed alcohol alone, and set Rafael wondering afresh what the old man could be thinking.
“I have spoken with the hermit Boethius and several occasions,” Richard Hearthbrow began, “and on each of those occasions I have come away disturbed. The man was reclusive for more reasons than a mere preference for solitude. I believe he feared the light of knowledge which is shared liberally among our excellent citizens; and therefore knew his fragile, obsolete philosophy, and frame of reference through which he saw the world, was a recipe for destruction.”
Rafael caught his breath almost audibly as the professor said this. The professor continued to question Amos along the ground’s of his relationship with Boethius, but Rafael had stopped listening. He was overwhelmed by the invertedness of the professor’s accusation. It shook Rafael half awake from his twilight dreams of joining with the side of the College.
He felt personally offended, and yet had nothing to say. Fear still clawed at his mind, threatening him with vague, uncertain fates if he did speak out against the College; and if he did, what could he say in his own defense? He was caught between a blurry, optimistic future if he chose to hush his inarticulate convictions, and a completely invisible future if he spoke. The utter opaqueness of this second option was its chief menace. As until now, he had only been met by smiling indifference, and then warm acceptance, but at his word that smile would vanish and he would be its enemy. If Amery was right, it would mean death.
When the professor had finally ceased to question Amos, he sat down and gave room for Redwick, who lifted himself out of his chair with a slow, mechanical motion. He held no paper, but clasped his hands tightly behind his back and gazed over the crowd with an ambiguous smile on his face.
“As of yet,” Redwick began, “we have addressed every angle of this case save for the finer points of the motive.” Rafael began to listen again as this was said. Redwick continued, in his fast, steady, quiet way, “I believe it can said that we are all agreed that Boethius’ philosophy, by its own nature, rendered his grip on reality less lucid than ours, and therefore the logical conclusion of that philosophy would be to reject reality entirely.” He now let his sharp, hawk-like eyes rest on Amos, as he continued, “I believe Captain Amos is the logical conclusion of this destructive philosophy.” The crowd murmured. “A philosophy which condones a life void of society, the practice of bending nature, and twisting science can only lead to a mental sickness which creates murders like Captain Amos.”
For the first time in several minutes, Amos dropped his eyes from the window and look directly at his opposer. With his strong, deep voice he said to Redwick,
“May I ask what it is you do in your laboratory.” To Rafael’s surprise, the crowd did not boo or shout, but looked to Redwick for an answer, all equally eager to know the truth. Redwick’s smile sharpened.
“This is a formal trial, and the council will not…” Richard had began to rebuke Amos, when Redwick lifted a hand to his brother, who sat back with reluctance. Redwick looked back to Amos and replied softly,
“Chemistry mostly, with an emphasis on finding medicinal remedies for illnesses in the town.” The crowd whispered among themselves, evidently somewhat disappointed in the answer.
“And you can say what you do is not bending nature…while what Boethius did was?” Amos continued to question. “Because, and I’m no scientist, but I don’t think nature makes medicine without being ‘bent’, like you say.”
Redwick’s smile remained sharp as before, but now his eyes narrowed to form a cohesive expression, one of a sportsman who finds himself pleasantly engaged in a challenge.
“Well said, Captain Amos. You have detected a fallacy where I had not seen it. It would appear Boethius and I were engaged in similar occupations.” Amelia and Richard were glancing rapidly between the two speakers, visibly eager to stop the debate, but both held back by Redwick’s allowance of it. It was increasingly clear there was a shared respect or fear for Redwick among the members of the College.
“But where he and I differed was in our cause. Murder may resemble war, but the soldier is justified in the killing by his duty. My duty, Captain Amos, is to the prosperity and happiness of the citizens of Lerga, while Boethius’ work was done for himself, in service to a meaningless superstition.”
“You’re a learned man, I reckon…” Amos said, and was met by snickers from behind him. He continued, “In all your years of study, do you mean to say you’ve never discovered evidence for such things as ghosts? Or angels?”
It was clear in the fixedness of Redwicks face that he was aware of more behind the words that were being said. He replied almost immediately, as if he had anticipated the question,
“Discovery is the milk of science. I have graduated to methods above discovery by objective truth; something I only achieved by sacrificing the subjective restraints which Boethius embraced. I have discarded discovery,” For the first time there was variation in Redwick’s tone, as a note of contempt highlighted the word, ‘discovery’. “And have advanced into the realm of creation.” Redwick fell silent. His smile had vanished, but now a similar smile adorned Amos’ face, the grin of a man who sees the solution to a puzzle he has not explained yet.
“You are right, when you said you and Boethius had similar occupations. You are a brilliant scientist, and so was he.” The captain had began to groom his beard, with eyes of cunning as he continued, “But where you really differed was in your method of creation.” A quiet irritation began to burn in Redwick’s eyes as Amos continued, “You see, Boethius worked within the natural order, the way a hunter works with hounds or a horseman rides his horse. He knew that nature was meant to be worked with, not bent, and therefore knew your two boxes of ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ had no meaning. The ‘subjective restraints’ as you called them, was how he became a greater scientist than even you.”
Redwick’s nostrils flared, but he said nothing as Amos continued, his voice getting louder in the echoing lecture hall, “He knew that when people like you spoke of ‘sacrificing subjectivism’ they meant consciously ignoring their conscience, their own humanity until all they could think of were inhuman things, feeding your obsession for power. You speak of duty!” Amos’ face had turned red and his voice was filled with passion as he gripped the edges of the podium. “You’ve forgotten your real duty!”
“What duty is that?!” Redwick shouted back, the heightened pitch of his naturally quiet voice revealing itself as hoarse and raven-like.
“To tell the truth!” Amos shouted back, almost toppling the podium. “You want what’s best for these people? Then stop lying to them!”
“Take him away please!” Richard bellowed, shooting to his feet in a temper. The two deputies immediately grabbed Amos by the shoulders and struggled to pull him away from the podium, while the captain continued to shout,
“Boethius knew what you were! That’s why you had to kill him! He knew the truth and you killed him! You killed the only righteous man on this island!”
The crowd had commenced booing and cursing again at Amos, while Richard Hearthbrow waved his arms trying to settle down the congregation. Amelia sat rigid, hands knitted on her lap, while Redwick slouched back into his seat, rubbing his eyes and twitching with frustration.
When the crowd had finally died down and Amos had been taken behind stage, Rafael felt paralyzed. Richard Hearthbrow straightened himself and again cleared his throat,
“Would our first witness take the podium…Mr. Rafael.”