Jhorel had awoken in a bad mood, as if arising from a nightmare. It was supposed to be his day off, after all, and he had made plans… But a freak accident had left old Wantam with a sliced thumb and he’d be no good for the work today, so Jhorel had been called up to the Palace of Justice to take his place. Plans would have to wait a while. Anyway, there was still time! All things considered, Jhorel could not complain. He always liked staying in the on-call house, as it was very comfortable and close to the Palace. Tea and breakfast were supplied in good quantities and not having to share a cramped apartment in the boarding house was always a plus.
The smell of frying bacon and the sound of the huge bronze tea percolator bubbling to life put Jhorel into a much more positive mood. So he arose, even before the batman came to call on him to awaken. He opened the big brass tap attached to the heated bronze urn high up on the wall and let the warm water splash into the deep ceramic bowl. He rubbed his face vigorously with a cloth dipped in the warm water and scraped the straggly hairs from his upper lip with a gleaming bronze knife honed so sharp you could slice the very atoms of air in twain.
That done, Jhorel got dressed. The usual: his own heavy knee-length woolen britches, a heavily pleated wrap of dark blue & red around his waist, leather buskins and a curious cap of tinted leather, mostly dark red but with a band of blue around the opening. It was tapered and flopped a bit comically. Jhorel hated that cap. He preferred the more sensible black skullcap.
He chuckled to himself. “Heh, pretty sure its previous owner preferred it, too!”
By now the bacon was done frying and the tea was hot and Jhorel went out from the apartments and into the warmth of the kitchen. Hruweg was the cook. Couldn’t speak a word of Avantimannish beyond “Ya ya!” or “Very good you eat!”; but he worked magic with wok, pan and spurtle alike.
“Ah, Hruweg, magic as usual!”
“Very good you eat!” came the iconic reply.
“You certainly know how to fry up a proper rasher of bacon and no mistake.”
“Ya ya. Very good bacon!”
“I’ll just take both the evening and morning broadsheet, Wegs.”
“Ya. Very good you eat!”
In short order, Jhorel was facing down a plate of bacon and coal toasted bread with sweetened butter and honey, a mug of tea and the great oliphant sized broadsheets. Mostly is was the doings down from the quays. A shipment of fragrant lumber from Syansyan; a consignment of mint preserves from Mentolatum; luxurious cloth from Dharamumbass. Boring.
Jhorel picked at the bacon with his long tsiap-say and enjoyed the crunchy salty flavor of each impeccably cut square of meat. He turned the page of the broadsheet. The toasted bread was perfectly sweetened. After scanning the adverts for the review halls and theaters, he heard a commotion from outside the open windows. He could still see the sun on her upward course through the open window. Couldn’t be anytime past about the fourth hour of the sun. Ah, our audience is arriving early, then!
Jhorel took a nub of pencil from the work table and marked a couple likely shows for the evening. He’d always wanted to hear Wandel’s Sack of Pylycundas. He’d have all the time in the world after his work today to relax and get ready before the show.
At last, he mopped up the last of the bacon drippings with his last piece of toasted bread and pushed the empty plates and mug away. He turned to the third page of the great rag that was the Imperial Journal. “And a true rag it is!” he was fond of saying: “Good quality rag paper, that. Not the cheap shoddy they use at Scepter and Globe.” Reading words actually printed on paper was still quite the novelty in the Eastlands. Some clever artificer had finally sorted out how to get Imps to carve runes and images into a great wheel of stone that could then be inked and pressed into paper. And all without the troublesome accumulation of stray magic that had destroyed the earlier attempts at printing.
Ah! Here were the crime blotters, tales of heinous cases solved and spectacular accounts of hunts in progress. Jhorel would undoubtedly meet some of these bold fellows, if only briefly, in the months to come. As he lost himself in the dense, florid prose, he lost track of time. Hruweg had long ago cleared up the kitchen and the sun was swiftly riding her upward course towards the noontide.
A rapid knock on the kitchen door dragged Jhorel from his literary reveries. “Lordship,” came the voice of the batman: “Your time is come, lord!”
Jhorel, fourth son of the Earl Jhonam wan Aacwuthus, retired from the Army (O.A.E., Master of Knights of Punthus) was now a simple civil servant. They called him “lord” out of respect for his family, but in reality he hardly outranked the batman who so impeccably greeted him so.
After a moment, he rose from the table and stepped through the door into the ready room. He could hear the crowds int he square below: the happy sounds of any large gathering of people. Quickfood mongers, souvenir hawkers, minstrels. All competed for the spectators’ attention. Jhorel stepped over to the window overlooking the square. The Palace itself occupied a whole side, facing several other important civic structures.
But in a moment the whole mood changed. A simple thump-thump of heavy bone beaters upon pairs of large bronze nakers silenced the crowd. The dirgemen stepped slowly and sedately into the square, beating perfect time. They were followed by loping guardsmen bearing long bronze headed spears. In turn came a simple wooden waggon, gaily painted with dark red and blue and black stars and drawn by a single ox, slowly plodding along the cobbles. Upon the waggon’s platform was an empty wooden chair. The crowd began to murmur.
Jhorel turned away from the window, a lump rising in his throat, his good mood failing again. He went over to the red cloth dressed table. Upon it were three very familiar tools, draped with a simple cloth.
He twitched aside the covering to reveal what lay on the table. He sniffed, disliking what he saw.
First was the stanhuud, a simple leather strap: nearly a quarter of an inch thick and a foot long, it was made from some great beast of ox kind no doubt. At one end it was attached to a heavy oak handle by four thick bronze rivets. At its other end was a very large and rough rivet of bronze. The leather was stained a bright red.
Then came the cambock, a stout braided sjambok of thick leather strands. Heavy and flexible, it could break bones when strongly wielded.
Finally was the crucon: made from dense and heavy isarnwood, difficult to cut & carve and all but unbreakable, it was in shape a short grooved handle from which sprang an ell long curved “blade”, much like that of a scimitar and topped with an egg-shaped knob. The wood was black, though whether natively so or whether having soaked in so much blood over the long years of its service was not possible to say.
Jhorel lifted and hefted each in turn. It was an unusual combination for the work, and not one he would have chosen. Three bludgeoning tools showed lack of creativity, a bestial delight in battery without finesse. He sniffed derisively.
“Is there something amiss…lord?” The voice this time was definitely not the batman’s. It was that of Camayo, the chief executioner. He stressed the word ‘lord’ with all the derision and enmity he could. “Getting old Wantam to slice up his hand for you was a touching homage to your years here. You know he won’t be any good for the work any more. Shame really, to lose such a competent executioner. That was a dab hand with the ropes and jigs.”
Jhorel remained silent. “But really. There are others. You must surely know that nothing can stop the Emperor’s justice from being done!”
“Ah!” Camayo smiled slightly, undoubtedly enjoying what he considered a cracking private joke at Jhorel’s expense: “But one can hardly help but notice that, just this morning, there is no emperor! And even the broadsheets don’t know the news yet! Even so, no emperor does not mean no justice!”
There followed a long pause as the meaning of Camayo’s words sunk in. “Perhaps you noticed something else lacking in this morning’s broadsheets? Hmm?” Camayo chuckled. “Perhaps if you’d care to pop by tomorrow morning you and I can have a shufty and read all about the bold regicide?”
“Now, Jhorel, you really didn’t think you could just top the Emperor without anyone noticing, did you? The Kingmakers issued no order for the removal of his majesty, and we can’t just undertake justice on our own, now can we? The Commission of Heaven binds us all, a fundamental constitution of our realm, am I not right? We are but the tools in Lady Justice’s hands, Jhorel. Of course, he was a bastard of the worst kind, and between you and me, he got better than he deserved. But, proper order and all that, eh!”
Jhorel knew then the game was up for sure. The empty chair on the waggon boded ill, for sure. Bringing no prisoner to Heddzoff Square was a sure portent and the crowd had immediately sensed that something spectacular was going to happen. The tools on the table that were laid out not according to his own choosing was but another clue troubling his doubtful mind. And now Camayo. The only question remaining was how did that unintelligent twit find out?
“Now, now! No hard feelings, old friend! Let’s keep this professional, shall we? Do be a good chap and doff your cap and wrap. Those are official and you won’t be needing those. After all, you’re our guest of honour today!”
A quiet shuffling of boot clad feet in the kitchen served to stifle any thought of escape. There was nothing for it but to comply. A single mournful chime from the palace tower began to toll. The crowds in the square below moaned, knowing by instinct the cause of the slow tolling. Jhorel paused, then hung up his duty clothes on the peg by the door. Camayo signaled to his men who were waiting by the kitchen doors. They gently but firmly guided Jhorel to the doors that would lead down the stairs to the great stone dais raised slightly above the floor of the square. The table with its three grim tools was brought down as well.
The crowd fell silent as the men bound the executioner hand and feet to two great pillars. The warder of the Palace of Justice stepped forward and began to recite the age old formula: “Jhorel wan Aacwuthus, former executioner of the Palace of Justice, formerly O.A.E., K of P, et cetera et cetra, stand you here before all the Folk of our Empire, Man and Daine alike, accused and condemned of unlawful kingslaying. Now is your time come…”