An Epic

The Right To Remain Silent

By Gerry Torbert


Darmon Stuart. One of several in line for the Clan leadership of Slaughbaetha. Pride of the Stuart Clan, largest and strongest in Creagland. His deeds repeated time and again in lore: the destroyer of the evil Gark'Aahs, a rogue dragon; leader of Darmon's Undead at the Battle of the Deadlands and the Siege of Borderhold; savior of a dozen human slaves held captive in Celustel; he who freed a hundred souls in the Cursed Crater; savior of the town of Norville.

Darmon Stuart. His legend growing by the day: he who cannot be killed; he who can heal himself from any wound; he who wields the most enchanted and dangerous weapon on the continent; he who owns the tooth of a dragon; he who is cursed to forever walk the land without sleep.

Darmon Stuart. His name repeated in dark legends: murderer of two Gaelic businessmen and a bartender in Zel City; responsible for the death of two guards in the Fortress of Sum; for the death of a dwarven mercenary and a soldier of Anaria; for the death of a bartender in a small northern town; for the death of a young girl from the Caembuhl Clan.

Darmon Stuart. Recipient of both laurels and lances: haunted by Tanarus; protected by Sulis; sought after by the Drow; praised by the troops of Farland. It was small wonder that he chose to take the long way home.

No one could feel more empty, no one more alone. Anyone who came to know him did so at their own peril. Fewer by the day were the people who hadn't heard of him. And added to this was the crushing reality of his inability to leave it all behind, to close his eyes, to dream of a time long since forgotten, when he could chase a girl through the sweet fields of heather, when he and his friends would play games in the woods, when he would wait patiently at the dinner table for some of his mother's fine cooking, when he and his father Uilliam would wait for hours to shoot that one elk that walked the same path every day.

But he knew that his was a destiny to do what good he could do with his gifts, if for no other reason than to make up for those actions that would haunt him because of his curse. He would always be praised for putting an ante in the pot of life, only to see someone else take the hand.

Dragonslayer would often chide him for his self-pity. But even the good and willing soul that the mystical sword had captured and saved from the hell that was the Cursed Crater couldn't be completely convincing. There is a fine line between self-pity and the realization of truth. Often it consists of perspective. Other times the line is clouded by lack of reasoning. Darmon didn't have the time or the patience to figure it out. He would leave that to the sword.

He walked the road to Zel City, thinking about much, enjoying his thoughts little. The road was becoming more defined now. He decided that there must have been a more direct way from Zel to Wawmar, the fabled dwarven volcano. In the dark, he must have taken the wrong fork in the road to end up at The Falls of Dimrune, and wondered how many others made the same mistake and ended up as slaves of the Drow. He vowed to return there and find a way to close off that entrance for good.

There were a few towns along the road that were easily missed. They were mostly the same type of farming communities which grew up outside every city on the continent. The people grew from one landowner who betrothed a sector of land to his children, who then subdivided it into lots for their offspring to use as they continued the family traditions. He knew he was getting closer to town when the farm house clusters began to take on different looks and layouts.

Zel City was not one of his favorite places. The more powerful governing factors of the city originated from Farland, and as such, were convinced of their superiority in all facets of their culture. Their history consisted of farming, training and trading horses, and had easily swallowed the clans of the south, those of Eire. The Zelanders demanded taxes of the Eires and Creags that were often too high for a decent standard of living and therefore kept them in relative poverty. Try as they might, the life of the Highlanders was not as economically powerful as that of the lowland horsemen, and so they tended toward clan structure to eke out life.

Several civil wars had left Creagland poor and huddled in their communities. Their proud and raucous nature left them with distaste for the governing Zelanders, but there were scarcely enough of them to rectify the situation. So they remained a proud race, cut off from the rest of Zeland, often mysterious in their traditions and way of life.

Now he approached the northestern gate, from which he bolted weeks ago in the wake of events he couldn't begin to describe at the time. Since then he had come to understand the events, although at times he wished he didn't. Why he felt the need to re-enter the city, he wasn't sure. He couldn't run from his deeds forever, though. It didn't take him long to find this to be true.

As he walked through the gate, a guard approached him. Adorned with the simple crest of Zeland and armed with a medium-sized broadsword, his eyes lit up. He turned and whistled to two others gathered near the watchtower, and they both came over at a full trot. He drew his sword and pointed it at Darmon's chest. "Hold there, mister. State your name, now!"

Darmon sighed. He had received his share of threats over the last few days, and this was just another. But what was he to expect? If he was to clear his name, he certainly knew he would attract attention. "Darmon Stuart."

The guard looked quickly at his companions, then back. "Got him, mates. Careful he doesn't pull that sword. Okay, Stuart, you're our prisoner. Hands behind the head, on your knees, now..."

Darmon obeyed. The next thing he felt was his head, reeling from the hilt of the guard's sword. At least, he thought, he'd get some rest...

The guard stood over him as he swooned into unconsciousness. "Wait 'till he's out. He's a dangerous one. Take the sword. You'll pay for your actions, murderer. Let's carry him to the station."

The cell was simple enough. Stone walls, floor, roof. Iron bars. A pan of water on the floor. A hole in the floor on the other side of the cell, for necessities. What else would a murderer expect? A guard stood outside the bars and heard him groan as he awoke to pounding in his head. Not to be intimidated, the much smaller man smiled and picked up a headbanger, a steel bar, from the floor. "So, awake, are ya, killer? See how ya like this!" He dragged it across the bars, creating a noise that pierced Darmon's eggshell-like eardrums.

Darmon covered his ears until he was finished, wincing from the sound. The guard soon left, laughing. Darmon lay back and rested. Soon, the door to the chambers opened and he returned, but with two other guards. One thrust his sword through the bars while another opened the door with a key. "Stay back, Creag. We have a visitor for ya."

From behind the guards stepped a little man. He was comical in his look, which matched his motions and actions perfectly. Disheveled in appearance, he walked through the portal, clutching a few books and some writing paper. His eyepieces consisted of hunks of poorly-ground lenses held to approximate locations on his face by twisted wire. It took barely a movement on his part to send them falling to one side or the other, and what hair was left on his balding head was ill-prepared to help hold them steadily. As he hurriedly walked toward a chair near the cot, the book half-slipped to the floor, and as he caught it, the glasses decided to accompany it. "Y-y-you must be Mr...uh...urk...ex-excuse me..." he looked down at a piece of paper sticking out of the book, turning it this way and that, replacing and adjusting his glasses, ", right?" He looked over his glasses at the Creag.

The guards burst into laughter. "You'll be swingin' from the tree soon enough, Creag. Look what ya got to defend ya! C'mon, boys, let's get some ale and let these two alone!" They continued laughing as they closed and locked the doors.

The little man continued, pulling out another piece of paper and reading from it. "I am Murchad O'Lear, of the Defense Council, and have been chosen to represent you as the defense in your trial in the name of the Emperor of Farland. Darmon Stuart, of Slaughbaetha, I presume?" He looked over his glasses at the stunned fighter. Darmon asked, "Mr. O'Lear, just exactly 'ow many cases a' ya had?"

O'Lear looked over his glasses. "Counting this one?"

Darmon shook his head. "Never mind, sir. Wha' ye need ta know from me?"

The advocate fumbled through his book, thumbing the pages as he constantly readjusted the gems hanging from his ears, "Well, Mr. Stuart, the City of Zel, party of the first part, states here that a Mr. Stuart, of whom are you, the party of the second..."

Darmon stood up, reaching out to close the book over the man's hand. "No, Mr. O'Lear, I don't need a buncha law-talk. Tell me from yer 'eart. I assume ya read the transcripts a'ready. What are our chances, lad?"

Murchad looked intimidated, as he probably would if he faced off against any of the insects making their way across the stone floor of the prison cell. "Okay, Mr. Stuart, I have to tell you that things don't look too good for you. You came to town, spoke with a bartender by the name of Farvius and two businessmen, a Mr. Mulligan and a Mr. McKee, and stayed in a room. The next day the police found all three men dead, in strange ways. What is your defense?"

Darmon relayed the events of the evening, just as he remembered them. He mentioned that a little man in old clothes was outside the inn, and when he went toward him, he disappeared.

" mean, poof?!" Darmon nodded. "Yup, that would be it."

The meek barrister opened his book. "Uh...ummm...let me, under the p's...noooo...I don't think that classifies as a King-accepted defense...there's "poor", "portly"...noooo..." Darmon lowered his head into his hands in despair.

"Look, lad, ya gotta find someone out there who saw me, saw anybody, anything. I swear on Janora's bones, 'at's the way it 'appened!"

He paged through again. " that with a 'G' or a 'J'?"

Darmon's face grew pale. He came back to Zel City to clear his name. The odds weren't stacked against him. There simply weren't any odds. "Janora, the holy goddess? Janora... Okay, Mr. O'Lear. Forget Janora. Do ya know of what I've done ta save the people of this land? Do ya know I killed the dragon Gark'Aahs, who'd been killin' people left an' right? Ta be sure, it must count for somethin'!"

The lawyer looked up at him in wonder. " mean you killed someone else, in addition to these three? Oh my, oh my, you certainly don't want to tell the jury that...multiple murders...oh my..."

Darmon slumped to the cot. "Just rest now, Mr. Struat, er, Stuart...we'll get this all straightened out. The deposition is tomorrow...we can get you a lesser sentence, if you don't tell them about some little man in a hood...goodness...multiple murderer... Guards! I'm ready to leave! Guards!"

Darmon covered his face and flopped back into the cot as the guards opened the cell, dropped some food into the dish on the floor, and led the little man away. He didn't get any sleep that night. Darmon thought to himself the whole night. He tossed and turned, as he always did, but no matter what he did, he couldn't sleep. It was worth the try, he thought.

There was no defense. Some people would know of curses and magic, although in Zel City they weren't well-known occurrences. Few would believe that the curse would come in the shape of a little man, dogging and hounding him throughout the rest of his life, killing those around him. A smile crept across his face, though, as he thought of their vain attempts to execute him. He wasn't sure if they would revert to decapitation if hanging wouldn't work, which may be a problem if they did, as he didn't know how far from his body his head could be and still regenerate. He only knew that he really didn't want to find out.

The guards awoke him, or so they thought, as the sun climbed higher through the window. Mr. O'Lear accompanied them, still as messily dressed as before. They made their way down the street to the Lord's Court, Darmon in leg- and arm-chains that they snapped on to him before they left. A crowd gathered around the front of the building, from the street all the way to the top of the steps. Some taunted him, a few threw rocks. But the guards did their duty as they protected him all the way to the antechamber. You might say this was Farlandish justice at its best. Darmon would find fault with that statement, looking down at the wreck of an attorney who would represent him.

The guards stood outside the smallish room while O'Lear prepared Darmon for the deposition. "Now in this phase, we simply hear the charges brought before you, meet the prosecuting advocate, and the Lord sets the date for the trial. We usually have sufficient time to bring in witnesses and such before the real trial starts. Now, I want...errrrr..." flipping through his book again, "Ah!...don't want, you to talk during the proceedings, except for what the Lord asks you. Do you think you can do that, Mr. Stew?"

Darmon shook his head. "It's Stuart...that's yes, I can do that!" He would have smiled at the little man's ineptitude, if it wasn't his neck he had to worry about. He reached up and rubbed his neck, remembering what it felt like...

"Oh...oh, yes...I have troubles with names, sometimes...anyway, the prosecuting advocate is Tarlan O'Thule, an old country-style lawyer. He's pretentious, bombastic and overbearing, but I can handle him. The Lord sitting in Lordment is Carinus Fabian. He's a stodgy old fart from Farland, placed here by the Emperor himself. He may be tough. But just follow my lead and I'll make sure everything goes well, okay?"

...Okay... thought Darmon can anything be okay?..."Sure, I'll do what you say." He wasn't convinced. The people would be up in arms, the Lord would be confrontational, the prosecutor would be trying to make a name for himself and he was stuck with a bumbling fool for an attorney. Everything's okay...

The sergeant of the guard walked to the entrance of the room and announced that it was time. The guards held on to Darmon's chains and led him shuffling out to the courtroom. He was surprised to see the layout of the room. He had only been in a few courts, but this was not what he expected. It was laid out as if it was an ampitheatre and he would be fed to the lions. The Lord's desk was situated in the center of steep stands that wrapped completely around the huge room. A flat floor at the center was limited to only a few rows of seating, facing the Lord sitting in Lordment. The stands were filled with quite a raucous crowd that booed and jeered him as he entered. He was seated in the first row with guards in front and to each side.

Then entered Tarlan O'Thule. His full head of gray was pulled back into a knot but the knot was then pushed forward to create fancy waves in his hair. He was dressed in fine black pants and a ruffled white shirt and was carrying an armload of books and papers. He gave Darmon a once-over, ending with a sneer and a huff, barely audible over the crowd.

The sergeant of the guard walked forward and announced the arrival of the Lord sitting in Lordment. "All arise!" Darmon struggled to his feet. Carnius Fabian walked down the center isle as the crowd finally hushed. A tall man clad in a noble regalia, he walked with confidence that bordered on arrogance as he took the high seat. His years of experience showed on his face, lined with age and wrinkles but hidden somewhat by the white powdered wig he sported. Something in Darmon said that he seemed familiar. He thumbed through the stack of papers as if he had many cases during the day. It was for show, though, and everyone knew it.

"The court of Zeland, representing the Emperor, is now in session," said the bailiff. Fabian looked to O'Thule and said, "Will the prosecuting advocate stand and state his case?"

O'Thule stood. "Your Lordship, the City of Zeland in the name of the Emperor is trying Darmon Stuart of Slaugbaetha for the heinous crime of murder in the first degree of Jonothan Farvius, Richard Mulligan and Patrick McKee. I will prove, beyond all doubt, that he did indeed kill these men in the Longford Inn."

The crowd murmured, but Fabian raised his hand and silenced them. "There shall be no outbursts while I am judging! Mr. O'Lear, what does your client say to these charges?"

O'Lear began to rise, but his belt caught the edge of his books, scattering them about the floor. As he reached to grab them, he began to stumble, drawing laughter from the crowd. Darmon reached to help him, but the guards were on him like a pack of starving dogs on a hunk of fresh meat. They raised him up and slammed him back in his seat, and the crowd began to boo and howl again. Fabian rose slightly. "Guards - chain him to the chair! I'll have no more of this in my presence!"

As the guards wrapped his chains around him and tied him down, Darmon had the distinct impression that things were not going well. O'Lear finally stood. "Y-y-your Lordship, we...that is, my client, Mr. Stowe,, pardon pleading not guilty to all charges. We claim that there was another party involved and that he committed no crime." The crowd again began to yell, but was silenced by a stern look and a raised hand.

The Lord slammed his wooden gavel down on his desk. "Very well, Mr. O'Thule, you will call your first witness."

O'Lear gasped. "Your Lordship, we were under the assumption that this was a deposition, not the actual trial! We have not prepared our witnesses!"

The Lord tapped the bench again. "Mr. O'Lear, there will be no further outbursts such as this! The deposition phase has passed. You have had a whole day to prepare! This is my court and will proceed according to how I see fit!"

O'Lear steamed. "This is inappropriate! I ! According to section...ummm... let me see here..." he began to thumb the pages of his book "...eleven, page..."

The Lord stood up and interrupted at the top of his lungs. "Do not lecture me on the fine points of Farlandish law, unless you wish to join your client in chains, sir! This court will progress as I see fit! Mr. prosecuting advocate, you will begin!"

O'Lear slumped to his chair. Darmon paled. "This would never happen in Creagland! We have naught to do with such laws and courts. Men settle things with common sense or fists," he whispered to his attorney.

Tarlan O'Thule stood and began to call a myriad of witnesses. As well as he could remember, Darmon hadn't seen any of these people. They testified to him walking the street or entering the lodge, placing him at the scene of the murders. But no one really had any hard evidence or eyewitness accounts of anything he had done. Apparently the City decided the best way to approach the case was to flood the court with witnesses.

O'Lear declined the cross-examinations. After a while, Darmon asked him if this was the right thing to do, and he replied "If I cross them but fail to poke a hole in any one account or denigrate just one of the witnesses, O'Thule will use that one as a main witness, anyway. Besides, this will prove fruitless - we all know you were there."

The proceedings drew on into the late afternoon. Fabian refused to allow a break for food or rest, as he himself seemed intent on hearing each and every eyewitness. After nearly twenty people had taken the bench, he turned to O'Lear. "Mr. O'Lear, you haven't cross-examined any of the witnesses. Do you have witnesses, yourself?"

The meek attorney stood, adjusting his glasses. "Y-y-yes, your Lordship, I do. I'd like to call Mr. Darmon Stuart to the stand!" The crowd began to boo and jeer, but once again Fabian stilled them.

"Very well, but you know that you will be subjecting him to cross-examination by the prosecution, don't you?"

"In...uh...indeed, your Lorship, sir...but so far, I have seen nothing in the prosecution's case that has done anything other than place my client at the scene of the alledged murders. We readily accept the fact that he was indeed there, in the Inn, during the night in question. No one has testified that they saw him commit any of the alledged inappropriate behavior."

"Alledged!? Innappropriate behavior!! Your Lordship, I object to the language the defense is using! We all know that the criminal in our courtroom was guilty of those crimes! We have questioned those who saw him enter the inn!" O'Thule was enraged - a look he had doubtless perfected over the years. The crowd began to murmur, until Fabian raised his ceremonial mace.

"These terms are allowed in my court, until such a time as you have hard evidence of anything to the contrary, Mr. O'Thule. I suggest you concern yourself with your questioning and leave the procedures to me. Mr. Stuart, take the stand."

The guards unchained Darmon and led him by each arm to the stand. O'Lear approached the stand as Fabian quieted the crowd. "Mr. Stuart, would you please state for the Lord and the crowd what brought you to the Longford Inn on the night in question?"

Darmon began to tell his story of his long trek to Farland to fight the Dark Forces. He explained how he needed a place to rest for the next part of his journey, and how he had something to drink at the inn. He described the men who had approached him and several others he had passed along the way.

"Mr. Stuart, could you explain what happened after you spoke with the deceased?"

"I took me drink with me an' went up the stairs t' sleep for the evening. When I awoke, I washed, dressed and went doonstairs ta pay me bill. That's when I found the two men and the bartender a'laid out and dead."

"And what did you do then?"

"I looked out the front window and saw the same old man I passed on the road to Zel City. I went to the door, but when I opened it he had left."

"Mr. Stuart, did you kill any or all of these men?"

"No, sir."

The crowd booed and hissed. The Lord held up his hand and glanced around the ampitheatre, quieting them. Meanwile, O'Thule stood. "Your Lordship, this is a disgrace. This most honorable court is forced to listen to some fairy tale of a wisp of a man who supposedly kills three good men, pillars of our community, with a trained mercenary, a killer, sitting on the stand and expecting us to believe such nonsense! I vehemently object to such proceedings! We all know of the reality of magic, but never has there been a tale of some old man, mage or no, wantonly committing such murders and disappearing after."

The crowd became restless again. Fabian shook his mace several times, then said, "Mr. prosecutor, although I find this strange myself, this is his testimony. You'll get your chance to question him, now sit down, and I want order in this building!"

As the crowd lowered their voices, he asked "Are you finished your questioning, Mr. O'Lear?"

"Yes, your honor."

"Will the City want to cross-examine Mr. Stuart?"

"Yes, your honor." O'Thule approached the stand. He adjusted his hair, his shirt and the creases in his pants as he made his way to the stand. He cleared his throat and placed his thumbs into his armpits, as if he was attempting to hold on to a pair of imaginary suspenders. He looked Darmon over, then began a methodical pacing, left and right, head down, trying his best to look studious and important. "Now, Mr. Stuart, would you be kind enough to tell the court exactly what you do for a living?"

Darmon straightened in the chair. "I am the next in line for the clan leadership of the Stuarts. I do some farming, some distilling, and aid in preserving our clan."

"And what do you do to preserve this... uncivilized... way of life, sir? Why would you be on your way to Farland?"

Darmon looked to O'Lear, who was too busy thumbing through his books to look up. "I am a fighting man. I was headed to Farland to help in the battle against the Dark Forces, to preserve our interests."

O'Thule nodded slowly. "Ahhh... I see... so you're rather good at this killing... thing?"

The courtroom was interrupted slightly by guards placing torches in their holders, signifying the arrival of darkness outside.

Darmon welcomed the diversion and gathered his wits. O'Thule seemed to have a way of lulling one to sleep with his pleasant, matter-of-fact style. He knew the worst was to come. "I have been able to survive, to protect myself and to eliminate the enemy of our lands." He looked to O'Lear, who had paled at the direction of the questioning, but seemed to appreciate Darmon's tact.

"I see... and during the course of this... I'm sorry, I have a difficult time saying the word, sometimes... killing... you are able... no, required... to make split-second decisions in the matter of life and death?"

Darmon took a deep breath. He admired this man's ability to twist things around, and could see where things were leading. "On the battlefield, it is necessary to do so."

"Of course, of course... most important. And, as almost everyone here knows, you were responsible for killing the dragon Gark'Aahs, the creation of Tanarus, himself. That must have required an instantaneous decision, as well, in civilian life!"

Darmon saw his trap. "No, sir, t'was a considered decision, made by our clan leader, our wizard, and me. It required a lot of soul-searching." He glanced at Fabian, who seemed to be uneasy, moving about in his seat.

O'Thule smiled. He knew O'Lear wouldn't be much of a problem, but didn't expect to have a difficult time with Darmon. He decided to fall back on a more basic premise. "But, you admit killing the dragon and innumerable Dark Force soldiers. Would you say that killing is in your blood?"

Darmon thought fast, or so he hoped. "No. Killing was in the blood o' the orcs and the dragon. I just did me best for the people."

The attorney turned toward Darmon and leaned on the wooden face of the stand, looking directly into his eyes. "Is is true you are cursed, Darmon Stuart?" Fabian looked pale and went to raise his mace, but stopped.

Darmon looked back at him. "Yes, Mr. O'Thule. I am cursed." The murmur from the crowd turned into open discussion, and was quieted again by Fabian's hand. Sweat began to form on the Lord's brow. Darmon noticed it, but didn't understand why.

"AHA! So, sir, just what does this curse consist of?"

Darmon looked at O'Lear, who seemed to be as fascinated with the proceedings as anyone else. "I am followed by a little old man who killed two soldiers, one young slave girl and these three men!"

O'Thule slammed his hand down on the dais. "So, it's back to this 'little old man', is it? How long do you think the fine people of Zel City, who lost three good businessmen, important in their contributions to the city, will believe this simple little story?" Fabian seemed to be out of sorts, moving left and right, almost as if something was irritating him. A guard noticed it and walked around to the rear of his seat, but he waved him away.

Darmon slammed his hand beside that of the lawyer. "I'll keep on saying it, Mr. O'Thule, because it's the truth!"

The barrister leaned forward, closer to the Creag's face. "And just what proof do you have of a curse? From where does it originate?"

Darmon reached back into his kilt, pulling out a lump of enamel. "This is my proof!" He held out the tooth.

The Lord leapt to his feet. "Pu-pu-put that... th-th-thing... back..." He pointed to the tooth. Suddenly, sweat began to form profusely on his forehead, streaming down into his eyes, into his half-open mouth. Steam swirled from the top of his head, as the skin on his cheeks and brows began to melt, slowly oozing down his face. A glow formed around his head as the courtroom became queit. O'Thule called to the guards to attend to the Lord, but they were too late.

Streaks of yellow light began to shoot from his head, but instead of going outward, they began to swirl around, soon joined by red streaks and white wisps. His robes began to burn, only around the neck, then stopping several inches down. The light around his head burst into a full globe, twisting around and covering his head completely. He pointed to Darmon.

"My... child... Gark'Aahs... you taunt me with her tooth... you who killed her... you will pay, as did those men and the girl..." the former Lord, now revealed as Tanarus, reached back with one hand.

Darmon looked to O'Lear. His head was white, a globe of soft light, and strangely enough, he was no longer a bumbling male-- he now had the form of a shapely woman. She stood up and walked toward the stand. "No, brother. It is night. You will not harm him."

Tanarus dropped his arm. He knew he was powerless until dawn shot its fine, yellow and red streaks into the air, mingling with the soft blue sky. The Lord sat back down, his face returning to its form as the light around his head flickered to a soft glow, then nothingness. The Lord, his face and head returning to those of his own, stared forward in a trance, then turned slowly to Darmon.

"Leave Zel City now, Darmon Stuart. Never enter her gates again, under penalty of death."

Darmon held his hands out to the nearest guard, who unlocked the chains, then his leg-irons. Another guard walked forward, carrying Dragonslayer in his scabbard. He hummed slightly at the touch of his companion. Darmon looked at O'Lear, seemingly unfazed by the proceedings and adjusting his glasses. The Creag turned to the exit and walked out into the cool night. As he looked up, he saw a full moon.