Down and Out in Celephais
Leewas Nith, High Magistrate of Celephais, leaned forward across the massive, raised oaken bench in the city's main courtroom and frowned down his long thin nose at the two men brought before him. While they were dressed in clothes of dream's styling--clothes which were a little stained and travel-worn, but still rather fine clothes for a pair of rogues such as these--it was plain to any practiced eye that they were not normal citizens of dream. No, these were or had been men of the waking world, who through the circumstance of death on their home plane now abided on this one.
Their sort was not especially rare in dreams; occasionally they occupied places of great prominence and power; though more often than not they merely merged into the background of the dreamlands, settled down and became one with the land of Earth's dreams. Not this pair, however, whose names were bywords in civilized places for brawling, thievery, drunkenness and illicit wenching.
They were Eldin the Wanderer and David Hero (or Hero of Dreams, as the latter seemed to be known, though why his sort of ruffian should be accorded solordly a dream-name was anybody's guess) and the charges leveled against them on this occasion were typical of their record. Not so much heinous as outrageous; more mischievous than menacing.
Namely, they were accused of assault, seduction and arson, though not in that order. Oh, yes, and also drunkenness, non-payment of debts and vagrancy. Aye, and one or two other things to boot. Fortunately for them, Leewas Nith was a judge in more senses than the merely judiciary. He instinctively knew the characters of people. Even men from the waking world ...
Not that he was blind to the faults of this pair, on the contrary, and he was sure that they were indeed guilty of many of the charges brought against them. But not all of them. Drunkenness, certainly. Indeed the older man, Eldin the Wanderer, must still be a little drunk if the tale he was just this minute done with telling was anything to go by. So utterly marvelous an invention had it been--of black wizardry and derring-do, of mountain-scaling and keep-climbing, of fierce battles with all manner of demon gods, plants and beings--that the courtroom had been held spellbound. Now the tale was told and its teller stood silent beside his younger companion. Now, too, Leewas Nith peered down the length of this thin nose, regarded the pair, considered his judgment.
Eldin the Wanderer and David Hero--Hah! And the High Magistrate silently snorted his displeasure as he recalled many talks of roguery heard in connection with these two. Well, they would rogue no more in Celephais, not when he was done with them. And Celephais would not be the first of dreamland's cities and towns to expel them. Not by a long shot. As for their tale--of how they came to arrive in Celephais in the first place and their "reasons" for doing the thoroughlyunreasonable things they had done here--well, this Eldin fellow was obviously just as much a storyteller as a wanderer! Possibly more so. And Leewas Nith silently snorted to himself a second time.
"Eldin," he finally said, his voice brittle but at the same time full of a dire judicial strength. "You, Wanderer, as you are called. You tell an amusing, indeed a marvelous tale. Why, if the court is to believe you, then we now stand in the presence of two of the greatest heroes dreamland has ever known!"
"Oh, I wouldn't go so far," growled the bearded, burly, oddly-gangling man called Eldin, "but that's near enough." He twisted his scarred face into a scowl, rattled his chains and held them up. "And richly rewarded for our efforts, too!"
The High Magistrate continued as were he never interrupted. "And then misfortune befell you. On the day of your wedding-to-be, in Ilek-Vad your future wife woke up from the dreamlands and returned to the waking--" But here Eldin gave such a groan, and slumped against a pillar in so abject an attitude, that his younger friend was obliged to take hold of him and maintain him in an upright position.
"Did you have to remind him?" shouted David Hero, patting his apish companion's huge, pain-racked shoulder with a chained hand. "Damn me, that's the reason he gets drunk in the first place--because he can't forget Aminza Anz! What would you do if your bride-to-be woke up and left you stranded here in dreamland?"
While the rest of the court gasped at Hero's audacity, and while Hero himself glared all about at them where they sat, the High Magistrate merely frowned his annoyance. "Young man," his voice finally crackled, "I will not suffer such outbursts in my own courtroom. You and your companion were brought before me to answercertain charges, not to tell fantastic stories and perform stirring dramas and tragedies." He held up a sheet of parchment. "These are the charges you must answer:
"One: that you, David Hero, seduced Arkim Sallai's daughter, Misha, betrothed of Garess Nard. How do you answer the charge?"
Hero could not quite stifle a grin, his white teeth flashing from between lips which refused to be pursed. "Seduced?" he chuckled. "You mean when she invited me to stay the night in her garret room over her old man's tavern?"
"Guilty!" snapped Leewas Nith, this time with an audible snort. "Two: that when Arkim Sallai and Garess Nard heard the girl's cries of distress and came to her rescue--"
"Her cries of distress?" Hero was astounded. "Hers? They were my cries, not hers! Why, man, I'll carry scars down my back for the rest of my dream-life. That girl has nails as long as--"
"--Then that you knocked both of them down and broke Garess Nard's jaw!" finished the magistrate, his voice rising even as he rose sternly to his feet.
Hero gritted his teeth and slitted his eyes. "That Garess Nard," he growled. "The cowardly dog! Coming at a man with a hatchet like that. And me naked and weaponless and all ... Well, almost?"
"Guilty!" cried Leewas Nith, leaning forward with his knuckles on the bench. "And if you make one more outburst I'll have both of you thrown into a dungeon for a year!"
He turned his gaze upon Eldin the Wanderer and slowly sat down again. Eldin, sensing the magistrate's eyes upon him, gave one last sob and looked up through red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes. "And you," said LeewasNith, "you boozy barrel of a man. What of the charges against you?"
"Charges?" grunted Eldin disinterestedly, his almost volcanic rumble full of misery. "What charges? Damn it to hell, I'm a hero, I tell you! We both are. And anyway, I don't remember a damned thing."
"Nor would you," answered Leewas Nith sharply, "if the charges are correct! Now hear them out in silence:
"One: that you, Eldin the Wanderer, having put up at the tavern of Arkim Sallai--(a), drank for a week of the best wines and then refused to pay the bill. And (b), when the master of the house refused you more drink, broke into the cellar, barricaded yourself in and continued to drink. And (c), when finally you fell into a drunken stupor and were thrown forcibly out into the street, then that you set fire to the place, much to the distress of its proprietor and patrons who were obliged to flee while the tavern burned to the ground!
"There were many witnesses to these crimes and they are not to be denied ... Both you and Hero were later apprehended trying to leave town on a little-used caravan route disguised as priests of the Elder Gods, which is surely a rank outrage and a blasphemy in itself! Now what have you to say to all of this?"
Eldin wiped his eyes with his sleeve and glanced at Hero. He sniffled a little but then, as he noticed the corners of Hero's mouth twitching into a barely suppressed grin, jutted his chin and frowned a black frown. Hero's grin broadened until it became contagious. The two almost began to chuckle--before Hero managed to turn his choked laughter into a cough which he hid with the back of his hand. Eldin somehow followed suit, but only with great difficulty.
Finally the Wanderer turned his red eyes back up to the High Magistrate where he sat in judgment. "Can't aman have a little fun in dreamland anymore?" he asked. "Home from the wars, as it were, and never a flag waved and no welcome mat to greet us? Why, if Celephais weren't such a dead and alive den of dodderers you'd all have heard of us by now. Heroes, we are, and--"
"And we have heard of you," Leewas Nith cut him short. "We've heard far too much of you! Now be still while I pass judgment."
"Judgment nothing!" cried Hero. "I want to see Kuranes."
Again a gasp of astonishment went up from the courtroom, and Hero glared at the richly robed spectators and city councilors and junior judges where they sat upon their tiers of oaken benches. He felt like some sort of gladiator in an arena, except that there was nothing here to fight. And what with these chains, well, fighting was impossible anyway.
"Kuranes?" said Leewas Nith, as if he were hearing things. "King Kuranes? He does not try common criminals."
"Not so much of the 'common,' magistrate, if you don't mind," Hero bridled.
"And be careful who you call criminals," growled Eldin. "Are you deaf, man? We're heroes! Kuranes could verify it easily enough. So could you, for that matter. A carrier pigeon to Ilek-Vad across the Twilight Sea ... you'd know the facts of things by this time tomorrow. I tell you that less than a month ago I dined with Randolph Carter himself, in Ilek-Vad. They're great friends, Carter and Kuranes, and I'm sure the king of Celephais wouldn't see a couple of heroes such as we are falsely accused."
Leewas Nith could control himself no longer. His wisdom remained--his natural kindness and understandingof the human condition, too--but his patience had been stretched to its very limits. "You are not falsely accused!" he snapped. "And even if you were heroes, we couldn't allow you to run rampant through the cities of dreamland. You must be punished."
"Punished?" cried the two together.
"Be quiet!" roared Leewas Nith, and he gave a signal to four heavily muscled Pargan orderlies where they stood to the rear of the chained men. The black, golden-kilted orderlies moved closer to the pair, tripped them, forced them to their knees and held them there.
"Be thankful Kuranes is not here," the High Magistrate told them. "Especially you, Eldin the Wanderer. King Kuranes loves his Celephais and would doubtless punish you fearfully for burning a piece of it down. Fortunately the tavern of Arkim Sallai was full of beetle and due for demolition, else I, too, would punish you most severely.
"And you, David Hero," and he. turned his gaze upon the younger man. "Or Hero of Dreams, as you are styled. You too may be thankful, for the Garess Nard has agreed to wed Misha Sallai despite the ruin which your rapaciousness must otherwise visit upon her reputation. And so I shall be lenient with you also. But now I tire of all this and must therefore bring it to a close." He glared down upon them where they were obliged to kneel.
"When you were caught leaving the city you were carrying a great deal of money in your purses. This despite your many debts. Well, the money was confiscated and will be used in part to cover Arkim Sallai's unpaid bills. Moreover, there is sufficient to build him a new tavern; and so your crimes will have caused only a minimum of suffering. As for your yaks, your swords and fine clothes: they shall be auctioned off to pay compensationto Garess Nard for his broken jaw. Finally, Celephais is forbidden to you for a full year. You will be escorted to that same spot where you were apprehended and there set free--on foot! If you dare to return within a twelvemonth--" he shrugged. "Then it's the dungeons for both of you. That is all. I have spoken."
"What?" howled Hero and Eldin in concert.
"Take them away," said Leewas Nith to the Pargan orderlies. "Let my instructions be carried out to the letter."
"And are we to be sent into exile naked as babes?" cried Hero.
"Eh?" murmured the High Magistrate, already heading toward an arched doorway in the wall of the courtroom behind his judge's bench. He turned back for a moment to gaze at the two where they were being dragged away down an aisle under the steeply climbing tiers of seats. "No, no, not naked," he answered. "You will be given some clothes of good leather. Not so rich as the ones you wear now, no, but more in keeping with your ... history?" Finally he smiled a thin smile and wagged a finger at the pair. "A lesson to both of you--and be glad I am merciful!"