Tlisli had never felt so low in her life. Even when she was running from home and facing the forbidden ground or looking for the first time into the face of Azzesh the Tlazil who, she was sure, was going to eat her, she had not felt this low. But her only experience of the law was in her home town where being arrested was pretty much the same as being convicted. But what was worse was that she now knew that the two men she had fought had been town guards. She had protested that they had attacked her and hadn’t told her they were guards, but the soldiers just told her to save that for the hearing in the morning.
When she heard about the “hearing” in the morning, she assumed that would be her trial. She’d never make it to meet Azzesh, and the Tlazil would abandon her, she was sure. Why go look for a girl who couldn’t keep a simple appointment? She slept very little. At least she was alone in her cell. She certainly didn’t want company, especially the sort that might be spending the night in jail. Of course, she was doing that too!
But Tlisli was wrong about Azzesh. When Tlisli didn’t show up at the dock, Azzesh went to look for her. It really required no effort to track her to the hostelry, and from there to the main castle of the Inraline Army for the outpost, the same building, in fact, where they had met with the commander the previous afternoon. The soldiers had gone to the hostelry to pick up Tlisli’s possessions, and so everyone knew where the girl was.
Azzesh asked the duty lieutenant what was going on with Tlisli, the foreign girl who had been arrested the night before. As with many folks around Tevelin, he knew of Azzesh the Tlazil, and was impressed that she should be taking an interest into the girl they had arrested the night before.
Now Inraline court procedures require just a little explanation. Azzesh understood them quite well, but Tlisli had no idea whatever. In her home town (a city state), the police had the power to arrest and punish. Any trials were conducted by those police courts. Though people didn’t realize this, it was a procedure that went back to the Tlazil empire five centuries before when the humans had been slaves. In throwing off the Tlazil Empire’s authority, the humans had changed the players, but had kept the procedures alive. So Tlisli’s view that arrest was much the same as conviction was quite correct–back home.
Inraline courts, however, derived their practice from naval procedures, even their civilian courts. The general practice when there was a fight was to arrest everyone involved, unless there was a very clear explanation and guilty party or parties. Then there would be a preliminary hearing which was military in style, though all participants might well be civilians. They would determine if there was to be a trial. If there was a trial, the decision would be made by a panel of three or five judges, led by one professional, with the remainder being chosen from among qualified people in the community.
In this outpost, Tlisli would be taken before a panel of military officers who would determine what had happened and would vote whether or not to charge any participants with a crime. Rather than arrest being equivalent to conviction, quite frequently everyone would be released. There was even a provision for compensating someone for the inconvenience of arrest if it appeared they were completely innocent. “Completely innocent” in Inraline law meant that the person had contributed nothing to any crime being committed, i.e. had done everything possible to keep the peace, even if those efforts failed in the end.
So when Azzesh heard the story of what had happened, even though she found out that one of the two attackers was now dead, she was not concerned. There was little chance that Tlisli would actually be charged with anything. She doubted she would be compensated for her night in jail, because one could argue that she behaved in a belligerent fashion and might reasonably have been expected to resolve the situation without anyone ending up dead.
Unfortunately, Azzesh never thought that Tlisli might not realize that this was going to come out OK.
It was mid-morning by the time Tlisli was led into the hearing room. Her first shock was seeing that one of the men who attacked her was also being led in. She had assumed, once she knew the men were police officers, that they would not be under arrest. It appeared she had been wrong. The second shock was when she saw Azzesh in the audience. The Tlazil hadn’t left her. Perhaps there was hope after all.
Three officers entered the room, everyone was told to stand, and then told to be seated. It happened so fast that not everyone even made it to their feet. There were two cases that came up before Tlisli’s, and both were charged with various crimes and scheduled for trial. The officers seemed bored. Then Tlisli was called and also the guard at the same time. One of the soldiers who had conducted the arrest got up and told the story of what they had seen and done. The chief of the panel then asked the guard for his story.
“My friend and I were off duty, just walking down the street. We tried to talk to this woman, just friendly-like, and before we knew what was happening she pulled her sword. She killed officer Abil before either of us had a chance to draw our weapons. If the soldiers hadn’t come along just in time, we’d both be dead and she’d be gone.” He was clearly trying to look sincere, but he kept looking around the room, and sweat was breaking out on his forehead.
“Had you ever met this woman before?” asked one the the judges.
“No, sir. We were in the bar earlier, and there were lots of people there, so she might have been there. But we didn’t meet.”
“OK,” said the lead judge. “Tlisli? What is your story?”
“Both of the men bought me drinks at the bar. They offered to buy more, but I didn’t want to get that drunk. They clearly wanted me to do more, but I wanted to get some sleep. I was supposed to leave for Tevelin by the river boat this morning with Azzesh.”
“By Azzesh, you mean the Tlazil?” he waved toward Azzesh.
“Yes, sir. That’s her.”
“So what happened in the street?”
“This man,” she said, pointing to the guard who survived, “tried to grab me in the street. The other one, the one I stabbed, came out of the alley.” Tlisli wished she had a convincing way to claim she hadn’t killed the guy, but she couldn’t figure out what story these judges would like to hear, so she stuck with the truth.
“Right after I stabbed him,” she continued, “the soldiers came and arrested us.”
“Has anyone checked what happened in the bar?”
“Yes,” said one of the soldiers. “Tlisli was definitely in the bar, and this man was seen approaching her.”
“So he’s been lying to us?”
“Yes,” said the soldier.
“Well,” said the chief judge, looking to either side, “I don’t see anything we need to take care of here. Tlisli is ordered released with no charges, and we recommend this police officer be fired.”
There was no gavel. He just waved them away.
Tlisli didn’t know what to do. She just stood there for half a minute. Then she felt Azzesh’s clawed hand on her arm as she was led away. As they approached the door, however, the entire room was called to attention. The outpost commander was standing in the door. The relaxed atmosphere disappeared.
(To be continued …)