3. Guided by Legal Counsel

Life in Liamelia continues during Inglorion’s absence. Valentine’s case moves forward, as it was bound to do. Aside from his own deposition and Inglorion’s, a handful of other witnesses have been called: The Gypsy he injured, of course, but also slaves and drivers who observed his behavior before and afterwards, and all the dreary but necessary testimony about the conditions and circumstances of the operation. 

Valentine and Inglorion have never spoken directly of the incident, to avoid contaminating their memories. To Inglorion’s severe mortification, as soon as the case was underway, the lawyers told him in their queer, flat fashion that they have his deposition, and need nothing further beyond public silence. When he objected, they informed him coldly that the political fallout of the operation is such that his support can’t help Valentine, and may hurt him.

Since his return to Liamelia, Valentine has been of two minds. The sober, public Valentine — the Shelawn heir entitled to sign “Esquire” after his name — places his confidence in the family lawyers. His confidence is not misplaced. They approach the case with competence and zeal. Since his state of mind is key at every stage, they advise him on what to say and how to conduct himself, and he follows their instructions scrupulously.

Outwardly, then, Valentine responds in a calm, measured fashion to an unfortunate but entirely explicable episode. Inwardly, he’s gripped with doubt so severe that he can hardly stand to examine his own actions, let alone speak of them. Some of this was visible in the weeks immediately following the operation. When he first tried to speak of the events, his words were obviously unsuitable. 

When Valentine first appeared in front of the Council of Elders, his description of the deaths was so cold and remote that they didn’t fully understand that he’d been responsible for them. When they questioned him more closely, he couldn’t explain or describe his emotions or state of mind. His manner shocked them. His face and voice were curiously blank. When they pressed him, he responded with such cold fury that they suddenly found it all too easy to believe that he’d killed innocent civilians. 

In the weeks that followed, that initial, chilly impression softened. The lawyers described the appropriate motives and emotions to him, and he learned to produce them on cue. The grand jury recommended the minimum charges that three deaths require. The prosecutor exercised discretion in Valentine’s favor. During Inglorion’s trip to the North Mountains, it was confirmed that Valentine would not hang, or be banished or imprisoned. There are possible grounds for acquittal, and others for mercy if a jury should prove obdurate. 

The problem is this: Valentine doesn’t believe the account he produced. He doesn’t know why he killed the Gypsies. He remembers what happened and how he felt, but these don’t add up to a recognizable motive. 

Because he’s an earnest, honest creature, Valentine tries to explain this to his lawyers. They absolutely decline to listen. One goes so far as to say that if they speak of such things, he can’t continue to work on Valentine’s defense. Valentine takes this as evidence that he’s guilty, and should be punished. After a day of turmoil and anguish, Valentine seeks out Marcus in his estate office at Shelawn House, and confesses everything. 

Marcus frowns, sorts through the papers on his desk, and says, “No, no. I understand your scruples, and they do you great honor. Please trust me when I tell you that they’re entirely out of place.” He repeats this a few times to his distraught and pacing nephew, then says, “Valentine, you often spoke to Aramil before his banishment, when his case was pending. Did you see any evidence that he felt remorse, or understood the seriousness of his crimes?”

Though he hates to say it to Aramil’s own father, Valentine’s honesty compels him to say, “No. Not at all. It struck me at the time.”

Marcus nods. “I want you to listen to me very carefully. I won’t say you’re making much ado about nothing, but I do think you’re laboring under a misapprehension. Whatever you felt at the time, no one could doubt that you feel remorse now, and that you’re sincerely sorry. You’re aware of the seriousness of the incident, the impact that it had on the operation.”

Valentine blinks at his uncle. “I think so, yes. That is….”

“Exactly. You’re not just sorry you got caught. You’ve never tried to cover up the incident, or argued that you should be treated with special leniency.”

“Oh, no. That would be very wrong.”

Marcus gives another decisive nod. “Valentine, the law is full of fictions about motive. I don’t think anyone truly understands what happens in a man’s heart in such moments. You were under extraordinary stress; you feel badly; you won’t repeat the crime. That’s all anyone can require. The rest is a mechanism to explain that to a judge and jury.”

Valentine seems poised to object. He’s worried because he doesn’t understand himself, and he half-believes the newspaper accounts of his vicious Drow upbringing. He’s terrified he’ll repeat the crime without meaning to.

Marcus raises a hand to cut him off. “Valentine, you must allow that I know something of the matter. Both my father and son were convicted criminals. I don’t know if your state of mind at the time of the incident matches what’s written in the law books, but I do know you haven’t shown the same depravity they expressed. Think of that.”

Though Marcus has never led troops into battle, he’s accustomed to leading men in boardrooms, cabinets and legislative cloakrooms. He sees Valentine’s shoulders and jaw ease slightly; he’s making an effort to calm himself. Marcus presses his advantage, adding, “Come, Valentine. I banished my own son. Do you think I wouldn’t do the same in your case if honesty required it?”

Valentine has wondered about this. During Aramil’s legal battle, Marcus expressed sentiments that were more practical and less high-minded. He’s wondered if Marcus is going easy on him because he’s the only living, legal heir to the Shelawn fortune. 

Marcus concludes, “As I say, your scruples do you honor. In this case, they’ve become a kind of morbid obsession. I have perfect confidence in you. The good of the family and the city-state require that you follow the lawyers’ directions, and stop tormenting yourself to no end.” He pauses, gives Valentine a hard look. “I’ll ask you to give me your word on it. Whatever you feel privately, I expect you to be guided by legal counsel.”

There’s a long, tense silence. Valentine is visibly struggling. “Marcus, it feels very wrong to me.”

“What has Inglorion said of the matter? Not the facts of the case — I know you haven’t discussed that. But about the legal process, and your guilt or innocence.”

“He knows I did it, but he’s said that he trusts me, that everyone fucks up. That I should trust the process and leave it in your hands.” Valentine says this with the conscientious air of a schoolboy reciting a difficult lesson. 

This relieves Marcus’s mind. Once the question was out of his mouth, he feared that Inglorion might be clinging to some queer religious principle, or have received an awkward communication from the gods. “Well, there you have it,” he says. “He was your commanding officer. And for all his faults, Inglorion holds the highest possible standards of battlefield conduct. How could it be otherwise?” Marcus eyes his heir sternly. “Do I have your word that you’ll leave it to the lawyers?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll hold you to it.” 

Though the legal process grinds on for a few more months, Valentine takes his vow seriously, and it does relieve his mind. By the time Inglorion returns from the North Mountains, Valentine has moved on to a very different problem.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.

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