With a smiling nudge from Martin, Rafael stepped onto the stage. Immediately his whole body ignited under hundreds of eyes; and he felt his knees quake. As he passed the chairs of the council, he saw their faces. Amelia firm and unreadable, Richard stately and smiling, Redwick still wretched and indignant. Rafael immediately averted his eyes and looked up to the balcony, where his anxious gaze fell on Amery, who looked back with manful sympathy.
Rafael arrived at the podium sooner than he would have liked, and immediately caught sight of something left on its surface. A small paper note card, and underneath it, a beautiful, white feather with a metallic, blue sheen. Picking up the feather and turning over the card, Rafael saw written on the back of it, in Amos’ handwriting.
“Can you see her?”
Rafael immediately glanced up to the window, where he had seen Amos’ looking. But he saw nothing except for that huge, glass wheel of colors and symbols.
“Mr. Rafael…” Amelia shattered the silence, and snapped Rafael’s attention away from the window. She had risen and was looking at him with that cold, penetrating gaze he had become accustomed to after years in the Schoolhouse. But now, in that place and in that moment, her gaze felt unbearable. She continued,
“Can you explain the nature of your relationship with Captain Amos?” Rafael swallowed hard. The true nature of their friendship was a sad history he did not want to have to explain, least of all to these three.
“I am his apprentice.” Rafael said quickly, trying very hard to control the tone of his voice.
“And what is your occupation?”
“We’re fishermen, ma’am.” Rafael replied, flatly. He noticed she was no longer reading from her paper, which lay folded on her seat.
“And in all your years with Captain Amos, have you ever known him to be violent or have fits of rage?”
An impulse to lie flashed through Rafael’s head, but he knew he could not. The unbearable weight of Amos’ life rested on what he said next, and he knew it. That same hazy fear of uncertain penalties filled his thoughts. A second impulse to reply with a simple ‘yes’ flashed into his head, a ‘yes’ which would grant him freedom and fellowship in the College, saving his own life and securing his future.
But he knew unavoidably, telling the truth would not be a simple matter of saying yes to this question. The question was not whether or not Amos’ had a problem with rage, but whether or not he killed his only real friend. But this was not it either, the question ran deeper; it was the question Amos had asked only minutes before Rafael had taken his place on the stage. The question of two philosophies, one right and one wrong, one life and one death.
Rafael had not known Boethius long, but in the time he had been under his teaching, Boethius’ words had transformed his view of the world. In many ways, Boethius had taught him how to grieve Annabell, and how to look after Amos. But he had not done so directly, as a mentor or counselor, but indirectly through the frame he had set the world in. The nature of the world Boethius saw was intimately intertwined with the supernatural, and with the faithful conviction that they were not alone; that there was more than their rock in the sea. That there was something greater than his five senses could perceive, something truer behind the veil of the earth and sky, something knowledge could only hint at, like poetry. Something truer than… His thoughts terminated at the sound of Amelia’s impatient voice, saying,
“What is your answer, Mr. Rafael?” He glanced back at her stupidly with no words in his open mouth. “You will remember you are under oath to tell the truth.”
Rafael set his jaw and met Amelia’s gaze full on.
“Then so are you.” He had taken his first step of defiance, and could see something cat-like emerge in Amelia’s ambiguous expression. Rafael determined himself not to be intimidated as he continued, “Tell the truth, did you kill Boethius.” Amelia scoffed loudly and said in anry reply,
“Insolent boy! You will answer the questions of the council. You are not here to pose your own…”
“Boethius was Amos’ only friend, and Amos’ respected him more than anyone in the world.” It was clear the crowd was enjoying the exciting altercation, so Amelia condescended to reply,
“The evidence remains that Captain Amos was the only one to routinely visit the hermit, and that Captain Amos has been commonly known as…how should I say it” Here she paused, looking as most adults do when they’re trying to think of a way to soften the truth for a child “…as possessing an unstable personality.” The crowd murmured in evidently unanimous agreement.
“I was there!” Rafael found himself blurting out. A fresh wave of interest filled the faces of the three Hearthbrows.
“I beg your pardon?” Amelia said, looking vaguely shocked and a very little amused. Rafael swallowed hard again, recognizing the fact that he could not back out of what he was about to say. He repeated, “I was there, the night Boethius’ home was burned.” Amelia glanced back at the others with an almost embarrassed expression. She held out her hands in depreciation and asked Rafael,
“Why did you not tell us immediately?” Rafael ignored the question as he continued,
“I saw his body, before the boat was burned. Something had happened to him…he looked, decomposed, like he’d been dead for weeks.” Amelia heaved a long sigh, and said,
“Well it is our belief that Amos murdered Boethius several days ago, and became so ridden with guilt or fear of being discovered, that he went back and burned the scene of the murder. It makes perfect, logical sense…in fact, I should thank you for validating our existing hypothesis as to how the murder was done.”
“But we had gone to see Boethius only two days earlier, and he was perfectly healthy! You mean a man can naturally decompose that fast?” Rafael’s heart was pounding and his tone had become hoarse with the growing lump in his throat.
“‘We’? Who is ‘we’?” Amelia raised an eyebrow, unaffected by the other thing Rafael had said.
“And Amos was in bed when I left! He was at home the whole time!”
“Were there any witnesses to confirm his alibi?” Amelia urged, with wide, severe eyes. Rafael fell silent, becoming aware of the hole he had dug himself into. Amelia folded her hands in front of her and sighed with something like sympathy on her countenance.
“Mr. Rafael, nothing you have told us bodes very well for either you or Amos.” She began, Rafael only able to stammer breathlessly in rebuttal. She continued, “Not only do you refuse to answer my questions, you lie to us about seeing Boethius two days before his body was discovered, and you have the gaul to tell us Amos was at home the whole time.”
Rafael finally found his voice,
“But it’s true! I saw him only two days before!”
“Before I thought you said, ‘we’.” Amelia pressed. Rafael let out a groan of impatience. The crowd was becoming restless behind him.
“Who are your accomplices?”
“Accomplices?!” Rafael repeated with shocked outrage. “I had nothing to do with any of this! I loved Boethius!”
“You were there with an, as of yet anonymous party, at the time the boat was burned. I think we have good grounds to be suspicious, Mr. Rafael.”
Rafael stammered, speechless glancing between the deadly serious faces of the council. Suddenly his eyes fell on Martin, who still stood behind the curtain right of the stage. Without a second thought, Rafael lifted his arm and pointed at Martin.
“Ask Martin, he saw it!” The faces of the council hardened, “I don’t know how long he was there, but he might know something. Aren’t you going to ask him any questions?”
Amelia gave a bewildered and stifled laugh, and replied with some embarrassment at Rafael’s outburst,
“Martin? How does he come into all this?”
“He told me he was there!” Rafael choked on his own voice, furious at the possibility that he might start crying. Richard Hearthbrow turned in his chair and motioned for Martin to come onto the stage, saying,
“Come out here Martin, if you don’t mind.”
With prompt, brisk strides, Martin stepped out onto the stage, but not too far. Amelia turned and faced him, her hands still clasped in front of her,
“Martin, is this true? Were you at the scene of the crime?”
Martin hesitated to reply, glancing first at Rafael with an unsmiling face,
“No ma’am. I wasn’t there.” The crowd immediately began to murmur again, and all Rafael could do was stare and gape at his friend. Richard heaved a visibly heavy breath and look at Rafael with pungent disappointment. Rafael was staggered to see Redwick shoot up from his chair in a wrathful passion, as he said in his sharp, thin voice,
“I see no way around it! I find this boy unable to offer us a proper defense for himself or for Captain Amos. I find him guilty of conspiracy with the accused!” This time the crowd burst into a similar roar of hatred against Rafael, like they had done toward the captain. Rafael’s shocked and bewildered eyes were drawn to Amelia, who was shouting over the angry congregation,
“You have lied to us, dishonored the court, blame shifted, and refused to give the names of your accomplices. You have left us no choice but to arrest you for aiding in the murder of Mr. Boethius.” Richard was next to shoot like a fiery rocket from his chair, that once warm and smiling face now red with anger, with knitted brow and mouth shaping wrathful syllables. But what he said became inaudible as something unthinkable occured.
While every voice in the lecture hall shouted, cursed, and condemned, Rafael saw a woman. He saw the woman, approaching him from between two of the council chairs. She appeared to be stepping out of a heavy shadow, but there was hardly a shadow in the room. It occured to Rafael in a dream-like revelation, that she had been entirely invisible to him. Only when his thoughts had thoroughly abandoned the College and forfeited any consolation of compromise, did he have eyes to see who had been watching him. He clutched the blue-white feather tightly in his hand.
She glided toward him, luminous as a winter moon. Indeed, her expression had the same effect on Rafael as the moon; bright, distant, untamed, mother to all which fell under her eye. As she came nearer, she became like something seen through misty water, her own body transparent to his eyes, like a mist itself. Her wings spread like a thunderhead over him as she came to stand only inches in front of the podium. Sound, sight, everything else evaporated at the image of her ghostly form before him. Rafael could not get it out of his head that he was looking at Annabell, but not the Annabell of his childhood, a grown-up, inhumanly tall though overpoweringly womanly Annabell. In any other moment, this sort of encounter would have only added to Rafael’s peeked anxiety, but oddly a divine calm fell over him. He heard her say, like a whisper in both his ears at once,
“You did right…” Hot tears filled Rafael’s eyes involuntarily, tears he’d held back for anger and injustice, released as he realized there was nothing left to be done, and he had made the right decision. If it meant his death to stand up for Amos, Boethius, and all they believed in, then he was willing to drink death.
Strong hands gripped Rafael’s upper arms and began to drag him off stage, but all the while he could see the lady in front of him, repeating in her ghostly voice,
“You did right…you did right…”
Amery had left his seat the moment Martin had uttered his denial. The other boys had been taken by surprise that Amery was leaving so soon and were struggling to get through the crowd on the balcony. Amery was down the stairs in a heartbeat and out the front doors of the lecture hall in another.
He immediately rounded the corner of the building to where the brick path accessed the side of the lecture hall. He was just in time to see Martin leaving a door near the back of the building, which must have accessed the stage. He hadn’t noticed Amery and was beginning to cross the lawn to the next building when Amery shouted like a rifle shot,
“Martin!” Martin turned with a start, and continued to watch Amery as he stormed over the grassy lawn. Martin showed no sign of fear at Amery’s furious expression, which made Amery only more mad. The moment he reached Martin he reached out as if to hit him, but instead grabbed the small chain which hung around his neck and lifted the College pennant out from its hiding place. Gripping the chain so it pulled Martin’s head forward, Amery’s mouth twisted with uncontrollable disgust as he looked into Martin’s pale, untroubled face.
Amery let the pendant drop without a word and pushed away from Martin. The two stared at each other with unchaning expressions, then Amery spoke,
“You pig.” Immediately Martin’s benign expression ignited into outrage. He shouted back at Amery with great offence,
“I was only doing my duty!”
“No! You were only doing what you were told to do. Your duty was to tell the truth!” Amery jabbed a finger in Martin’s chest. Martin’s anger subsided as suddenly as clouds cover the moon. An ambiguous calm took its place, as if Martin suddenly realized he did not fear Amery. A sour smile curled around the corners of Martin’s mouth, filling Amery with such contempt he could barely keep himself from shattering it with his fist.
“That’s where you’re wrong.” Martin said in a thick, monotone voice, coming so close Amery could feel his breath. “My duty requires sacrifices. Trust me when I say it’s for the good of the town.”
Just then, the others arrived panting over the lawn. Hermon was the first to address Martin, and his tone did not spare abuse,
“I’ve heard of devil’s advocates, but I’d say you were his ambassador!”
“What was that all’bout in there, Martin?” Wallie added with a hound-dog concern on his face. Martin did not reply to these, but lowered his non-committal eyes on Vincent, who stood half concealed behind Aldous. He addressed his brother and ignored the others,
“Are you abandoning me too? My own brother?” The question was posed in such an insipidly melodramatic fashion that no answer seemed to be demanded. But Vincent did reply, and in a voice stronger than the others had heard him use,
“No, you’re doing the abandoning.” Then, before anyone else could speak, Vincent’s voice softened and he continued, “But you don’t have to…you can still come back to the Vault of Silence. We’d forgive you…” Hermon scoffed aloud, but Vincent persisted, “…I’d forgive you; and you could start like nothing had ever changed between us.” Those last few words struck Amery with a sandbag-weight of sorrow, but Martin’s face remained like stiff, like it was made of lead.
“I’m sorry,” He said dryly, “but it was the Vault of Silence which taught me what is fundamentally wrong with this town, and by this town I mean in effect, the whole human race.” Amery balled his fist as Martin continued, that smile creeping back onto his face, “So full of meaningless hopes and irrational coping-mechanisms. It’s like something Professor Redwick told me, ‘they’re addicted to subjective reactions’, and you all can’t help it, it’s just the way you are when left to your own devices. I just decided to join with the ones who have a cure for that subjective disease and embrace the inevitable.”
If these words had not pierced Amery with an icicle of despair, he would have knocked Martin senseless. The others fell silent and dropped their eyes. Amery ground his teeth as Martin eyed each of them, as if anticipating a response.
“You’re a disgrace.” Was all Amery could mutter through his teeth. With a sigh of something like disappointment, Martin turned away and continued walking across the lawn, to the building where Redwick’s laboratory lay.
Amery stood with clenched fists and his eyes downward, as all of them stood speechless. Insects chirped in the grass and two crows squabbled in a far off tree. Finally, Aldous broke the sickening silence,
“What are we going to do about Rafael and Amos?”
“There’s nothing we can do.” Hermon grumbled with a gesture of despair. But Amery lifted his head and replied,
“No, there is.”