Jared, a businessman, is on trial fighting for his life. But he has a secret helper, a woman as intelligent as she is beautiful. With her help, and the gullibility of the Emperor himself, can Jared be freed?
As he was led out, the crowd jeered and booed him, some even threw things at him. Rotten food would normally have been the choice, but with the bad harvest, people had nothing to spare. Instead, old shoes that just couldn’t be passed on again were the popular choice; a clear insult to the prisoner. Shoes were considered unclean, which was why local custom insisted that shoes be removed before entering anyone’s home. The insult was not lost on Jared, but he appeared unmoved as his grey eyes scanned the crowd, seemingly oblivious to the jeers from the hostile mob.
He was looking for her; he was sure she would be there, somewhere, just to offer him the comfort of her presence. As he looked around, he felt a push from one of the soldiers behind him, pushing him to his knees. Jared knelt down; he tried to keep his head high, still looking for her, but the soldier was enjoying his guardsman’s duties too much and pushed him further to the ground.
“Get down, all the way down, you scum.”
Jared’s nose was almost touching the dusty hot floor, but his eyes were still searching. To his left, he saw the horse’s hooves quickly followed by the cart. So, the Emperor was here, arriving as usual, before the prisoner could be taken to the square. He would be wearing his magnificent robes, undoubtedly, the robes he always wore when he was presiding over a case. There were Judgemakers and Lawkeepers, who usually presided over the trivial cases, but Jared’s case was important, and such a high profile case warranted the Emperor’s attendance.
“The Emperor has passed, get up!” The words were reinforced with a kick to his back. Jared stood up with difficulty as his hands were tied behind his back; his slow movements earned him another kick. Jared looked at the soldier for the briefest of moments; his grey eyes hard, before he turned his attention back to scanning the crowd.
“Look at him, he thinks he’s so important. Scum!” The comment from the soldier was for the benefit of his colleagues behind him, it was an attempt to cover his fear at what he had seen in that brief glimpse.
Jared and the soldiers came to a halt; they were now in front of the entrance to the square, where the trial would take place. The soldiers were anxious to hand their prisoner over to the custody of the Emperor’s guards, and return to the square as spectators. One of them signalled to the men in the square, but Jared wasn’t taking any notice of them; he had seen her. She was shrouded in long black robes, which partially hid her face, but it was her. She was looking straight at Jared, her beautiful deep blue eyes signalling to him that his wishes had been carried out. He couldn’t smile at her, for fear of someone seeing and wondering about the connection between them, but his eyes thanked her. He allowed himself to be pushed to the stand that had been erected for the infamous prisoner: the man who had cheated and stolen from the Emperor.
“Jutiia sepre, Jutiia finl:” The Head Judgemaker announced, and the jostling crowd came to silence. “Always Justice, final Justice.” It was the maxim of their way of life, something that Jared found ironic, considering how many miscarriages of justice were carried out.
He was on trial today for a crime so unheard of that people from miles around had come to see it, but Jared wasn’t prepared to be punished for what had simply been a business venture. He had plans underway that should guarantee that justice would be served. His love, the beautiful Rosalyn, had followed out his orders, at a great personal risk to herself, and an enormous financial loss, but if it meant Jared escaped with his life, it would be worth it. They would simply leave town and continue their lives together, both business and personal, elsewhere, in a slightly more forgiving environment.
“You are accused of cheating our beloved Emperor, of robbing him of both his money and his pride, damaging his reputation. If found guilty, you will face the punishment of death by stoning.”
The words from the Head Judgemaker brought the trial to session, it was likely to be a quick trial, there would be a perfunctory defence argument, but Jared knew that he would most likely be incompetent, as the state defence counsel usually were. But Jared would have an opportunity to speak at the end of the trial, before the judgement was passed. He intended to use that time to save himself, with the help of his beloved Rosalyn.
“You are accused of bringing the name of our beloved Emperor into disrepute...” The words faded in Jared’s ears as he thought back to his “crime” that day, his eyes still on Rosalyn.
His business was that of fine clothes and robes, made with unimaginably high quality materials from all over the world, places where most people had never been, nor could ever hope to go. People were always ignorant of the far-off places he spoke of, and of their customs and ways, so he often used that to his advantage, making sales that might otherwise have been difficult. Tales of how splendid the materials were, how they were only used for the wealthy, or well-to-do or elegant, tales of how the robes served to enhance the buyer’s reputations, all sorts of glorious exaggerations in order to sell to those with more in their pockets than in their heads.
But on this occasion, his business venture had been with the Emperor, an extremely gullible man, and Jared had found an irresistible opportunity to make money. His special sales pitch had been great, and the exclusive customer had fallen for the wonderful stories. Unfortunately, however, due to a small boy, of all people, the Emperor had found out that the stories had all been lies, and he had been publicly humiliated, and worse, laughed at. And now, Jared was to pay for that humiliation, with his life.
Jared was brought back to the realities of his trial with a push from one of the Emperor’s guards. He looked away from Rosalyn’s beautiful eyes, and turned to face the Head Judgemaker, who was clearly expecting an answer. Knowing that he was supposed to have been listening instead of thinking of other things, he was polite in his answer.
“I am sorry, Judgemaker, what did you ask of me?” His voice was calm, but his eyes had that steely cold look in them again, making him look dangerous.
“I asked if you had anything to say in your defence, if you could give us a reason for what you did, but your contempt of this court, and indeed of all things respected and loved by the people, is obvious. I believe no further time should be wasted with this. My Emperor, I beg you, ask the people to vote.” He turned to the gathered crowd, all of whom were seated on the dusty floor of the square.
It was a tradition in all high-profile trials that the people voted; if they thought the prisoner was innocent, they stood up, but if they believed him to be guilty, they remained seated. Before the Emperor could answer, Jared’s defence counsel stood up and asked to be heard. The Emperor and the Head Judgemaker frowned, but nodded towards him.
“I believe I can prove that the events that brought the prisoner to trial have not harmed the Emperor’s reputation, but in fact, enhanced it.”
Some people in the crowd gasped, and Jared smiled to himself, pleased that Rosalyn had got to his lawyer as well. He wasn’t surprised; Rosalyn was as smart as she was beautiful, and she knew that she could use her beauty to her advantage. Many a sale had been closed on her smile alone, or on the unsaid hint of an evening alone with her, something that had never happened; Jared loved her too much to be used as a mere bargaining chip.
“That day, the initial reaction was one of ignorance, a reaction of fear of something so different. But since then, the good people of this town have talked of how wonderful the Emperor looked, how he is always setting new standards for others to follow.” His defence counsel was surprisingly good, Jared was impressed.
Apparently, so was the Emperor, he nodded to the Head Judgemaker, who went to his master’s side, their heads bent together as they whispered to each other for a while. After a short time, the Head Judgemaker returned to his position and addressed the defence counsel.
“These are impressive claims, but be warned, our beloved Emperor wishes to see justice done today, so if you are siding with this criminal foolishly, you will also be punished.” His voice was stern enough to make Jared’s lawyer pale a little, but he continued with his speech.
“I can understand how the Emperor feels, but I beg you, allow me to demonstrate in a way our laws have advocated, allow me to ask the people to vote.” The request was an unusual one, though in keeping with their laws, so after a brief consultation with the Emperor, the Head Judgemaker nodded. The defence counsel nodded to Jared, who spoke towards the crowd.
“I am a salesman by trade, I always look for the best deal. When I first met your Emperor, I realised what a good man he is, how his power and omnipotence goes beyond what he wears and how he looks. For this reason, I sold him the robes that I believed would enhance his natural dominion of everyone. I sold him nothing, because he has all he needs. And in doing so, I believe he has started a following.”
As he finished, several people from the crowd stood and took off their coats, revealing their nakedness underneath. At first there was silence, then the sound of shuffling as more and more people got to their feet, taking their clothes off as they stood. If the majority of them stood, he and his beloved Rosalyn would be free to leave this town, and continue their lives in peace. If they stayed seated, his life would be over.
Jared looked away from the crowd, catching her eyes, she gazed back at him, proud tears welling, and then she called out to the crowd, her voice carrying across the square like a bird singing in the morning.
Without hesitation, the crowd followed her lead and started chanting along with her, as those who had been seated stood and removed their own clothes, till no one remained seated, leaving the vote for Jared’s innocence unanimous.
“Hail, The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hail, The Emperor’s New Clothes.”