Even over the gasp of the assembled throng, Tooks swore he could hear Banner Malkin’s mouth snap shut as all eyes turned towards him. Those sitting next to him tried to edge away as politely as possible, and the gasps turned to frenzied whispers. The Lords Magistrate shuffled through their papers, while King Harchald sat down heavily and rubbed his temples. Through it all, Tooks grinned, making sure his gaze never left Malkin.
“Sent me somewhere quiet like, he did,” he went on, allowing a slight quaver into his voice . “Someplace where I could try out these new spells he say he came up with. Told me to do it or else he’d hurt me family, he did.” He mustered up a few actual tears. “My dear sweet Pol…”
“Why should we believe these foul lies?” Malkin said in the high affected whine he adopted as Lord Bodrick, rising to his feet in outrage. “You would take the word of this gutterman over that of a noble of Baycloak?”
“It’s all true!” Tooks protested, widening his smile as he looked back to Malkin. “I swear on me mother’s grave.”
Malkin’s face grew red with fury. “You thieving little maggot!” he snarled, all trace of Lord Bodrick gone. “I’ll seal you up in the Gasp for the rats! And when you’re about to slip into the sweet embrace of death, I’ll drag you back out, have you healed, and shove you back in again!”
Too late Malkin stopped himself as he felt the wide-eyed stares on him from all sides. “Impersonating a noble of Baycloak is a crown offense,” the Most Lord Magistrate intoned solemnly.
“And we never did like Lord Bodrick much anyway,” the king added, to a smattering of applause from around the gallery. A pair of guards were elbowing their way from either side of Malkin’s row. He tried to leap into the seats in front of him, but his neighbors reached out and held him until the guards could arrive. They grabbed him roughly and threw him in chains, with Malkin screaming all the while. “Tooks, you bastard! No common thief gets the best of Banner Malkin!”
“Banner Malkin?” the Most Lord Magistrate said, searching through his documents. “Oh, we have several warrants out for that name.” He smiled. “You’ve made me a very happy man.”
Malkin’s wordless howl of rage was swallowed up by the applause from the gallery as the guards dragged him kicking and biting from the court. Tooks threw him a cheerful wave just before he vanished from sight.
“Tooks Denholt,” King Harchald said as the applause dwindled, “the crown has no doubt you were but a pawn in the machinations of this criminal mastermind.”
Tooks raised his hands. “So I’ll be having these off then?”
“Hold,” the king said with a tsk. “A pawn is still a part of the game, however small that part might be. Even though you did so under duress from another, still you did perform these dark magics that brought these fell creatures to life.”
“I’m not a ffell creashure, I’m hish mozher!”
And there was Tooks’ mother, shambling her way out of the pen, trailing a sloppy line of gore behind her. Tooks flinched as she threw her arms around him with a squish.
“Yourr mazheshty,” she said, “I know my boy hashn’t alwaysh done zhe right zhing. But he’sh no necromansher. I didn’t come back becaushe of shome shpell. I came back becaushe I misshed him.” She squeezed him tight, and a collective sigh rose from the crowd. The High Seeker seemed to find the entire thing distasteful, if not blasphemous, but he was a shrewd enough judge of public opinion to keep his silence.
King Harchald cleared his throat, and spoke with thick emotion. “I would not be a wise or proper king if I were to rend asunder a mother from her child.”
“What?” Tooks said.
“Therefore, it is my decision that Tooks Denholt and his mother be allowed to go free –”
“Oh no,” Tooks said.
“And that henceforth, they shall live together in the peace and love that only a mother and son know–”
“No no no…”
“Until the end of his days on this earth.”
“I confess!” Tooks shouted. “Oh, I’m a right black neck romancer, I is! Rising up the dead straight from the bowels o’Hell I am! And I’ll do it again, too!” He raised his hands, prompting several ladies to faint in shock and a hail of angry shouts from the gallery.
There was nothing left for King Horchald to do but pronounce sentence, and the next morning, Tooks Denholt knelt on a chopping block as the High Seeker recited the rites and rituals over him. And then the axe fell, and as the life ebbed from Tooks, his mother and Widow Mabben and her husband and Jedro and the rest fell to the ground in a gory heap, and moved no more.
Tooks felt himself drifting in a vast empty expanse, on a wind that came from nowhere and blew to no place in particular. Then the darkness began to brighten, and vagueness became shape, and Tooks found himself in a small room with modest furniture and a bright, roaring fire. It looked for all the world like the house at Gracker’s Fen, only warmer, more inviting. Tooks stood for what felt like both eternity and the briefest of moments, waiting for the fire to burst out and claim him, for the bed to come to life and eat him, for some hideous retribution for his life’s misdeeds. But all that came was the crackle of the fire, and the enticing smell of whatever bubbled in the pot suspended above it.
Tooks allowed himself to relax, and sat down on one of the wooden chairs next to the kitchen table. He leaned back, propping his feet up on the table. “Worse ways to spend eternity, I s’pose.”
A voice came from behind him.
“Thake your feet offff zhe table, zhere’sh a good lad.”