Six dragons: me, Cterion, Uruunma, Rankotherium, Ythac, and Rankotherium’s somewhat estranged wife Dessvaria. Some six hundred mhelvul, starting with the families of the high-caste mhelvul whose daughters had been in the gymnasium when it collapsed, and on from there. Plus the impresario, the crime-speaker, the baliffs, the attorneys, and the other judicial staff, except that the judgment-maker was Rankotherium and I’ve already listed him. To say nothing of the thirteen executives and owners of the Prelret Construction Company. No courtroom in Pdernuz could hold all of us. Unless we shapeshifted smaller, but that would have made the occasion less impressive. So we took over an amphitheatre in Saint of Hermundro Park.
The crime-speaker was Headmistress Inth. She declaimed furiously at the builders, ending in a thunderous crescendo. “You have worked frauds upon us. You have built a deadly school for us. You have assaulted us by means of poor construction. You have injured us by means of poor construction. You have killed us by means of poor construction. And you have tried to kill a dragon by means of poor construction. And for these heinous crimes you must pay in full, so that the ghosts of our dead students can sleep, and so that no builder ever again thinks he can make such frauds as you have made.”
She’s rather brave when she’s got six dragons backing her up, is Headmistress Inth.
The truthforcing was actually rather tedious. The impresario would point his bell-covered crook at one of the attorneys. The attorney would ask a question, like “Did you have the central columns of the gymnasium seated properly in the deep soil and properly restrained by proper moorings?”. The builder being interrogated would say “No”. I would keep my veriception open, in case the builder was lying, which he wasn’t. Then the attorney would ask another question, like “And is there some proper and safe construction technique that you used in place of that?” and the builder would say “No,” and I would see if he was lying, which he wasn’t. The builders mostly didn’t lie. They knew that they were pretty much doomed in any case, and they didn’t want to annoy the sentence-maker by lying.
Instead, they annoyed her by being boring. I was ready to make the sentence after a third of an hour. The judgment-maker — Rankotherium — wasn’t ready to make the judgment that fast though. He was quite proud that Pdernuz was ruled by laws as much as by dragons. His subjects thought that he was quite fair, and that made them better subjects. So we had to hear all thirteen builders answer the same questions the same way.
Rankotherium even let the builders try to defend themselves. “There is no doubt or disagreement that you have committed the wickednesses of which you are accused. But is there any reason why we might incline to mercy?”
The proper answer is “No” and most of them said that. A humble submission to the forces of Justice is considered more sympathetic than any possible appeal for mercy. But that’s when Justice is mhelvul. And the assault on me made it worse for the builders. The punishment for trying to kill a dragon is death: death of the perpetrator, and his family, and his closest friends.
“Well, yes,” said Hascrinet. “I knew we was working cheap. We’re guilty as anything of all the fraud charges. But we thought it was good enough. I sent my own daughters there to school. Bdresia was in that gym when it fell over. We didn’t mean no harm by it, and that’s a fact too, Miss Truthforcer.” Which it was.
And the proper punishment for his crime would mean killing Bdresia too. Which I didn’t want because (1) she had been kind of a friend when she thought I was mhelvul, and (2) I had saved her life, and it’s embarrassing to kill someone you’ve saved.
Rankotherium used some grownup spell or other to talk quietly to me. «And we have to take some of the blame for that, Jyothky.»
«Me knocking the column over? I am not taking blame for it! Besides, it would have fallen over sooner or later anyways!»
«Not you. Dragons as a whole. We have denied the mhelvul all knowledge of any but the simplest science. They barely know concepts of structural strength and equilibrium of forces. And we’d certainly never let them go so far as to measure them.»
«I don’t know them either,» I pointed out. (This was before I spent a long time studying them, with Rankotherium.)
«Well, you should, and a good deal more besides. They’re very useful when you build a building that won’t fall down. We don’t let the mhelvul have any science. We’ve seen what other creatures can do with it. But that means they can’t use it for worthwhile things. Like architecture,» he said, and broke the quiet chat spell.
Then there was another third of an hour of annoying questions and discussions. Finally I was allowed to make the sentence. “There’s no question about the crime, no question about your guilt, and no question about what the punishment is. For your lesser crimes, everything you own shall be given to Drumet Academy. For your greater crime, you, your families, and your closest friends shall die.” All very standard.
There wasn’t a lot of surprise about that. I looked at Bdresia, who had been crying quietly in her hobbles for most of the trial. She stared back at me with thick darkness in her eyes. I can’t blame her, since I’d just condemned her to death.
I added, “However, if making a lethal gymnasium counts as a murderous attack on me, then surely it counts as a murderous attack on everyone in it. So you’ve tried to kill your daughters, Hascrinet. It’s not punishment for me to kill someone you’ve tried to kill. So they’ll live, to spite you.”
Bdresia wasn’t expecting that. She didn’t stop crying, though.
Hascrinet tried to thank me for my mercy, the fool. I yelled at him, “It’s not mercy. It’s extra revenge.” It sounded petulant and fatuous to me. I’m sure everyone in the stadium knew I was making up a reason to save a friend. Even the small people. The dragons knew my lie like a vericeptive fart in the face, but they didn’t call me on it.