Built in the days when Manderia still had a High King, the palace reflected the grandiose splendour of a bygone age. High, vaulted ceilings loomed, cathedral-like, high above. Light spilled in through circular stained-glass windows. The floors were laid out in worn but well-kept black and white marble. The architects of the last empire had poured all of their skill into the working of the place, and at the end, had even contracted help from the elves. The result was a structure so huge and ornate that it dwarfed the viewer, made them small and unimportant. Few architects of the modern age, short of the elves of An Chathaire, had achieved anything to rival it.
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Their footfalls rang on the floor. Their escort of palace guards kept pace several steps ahead, and stopped to open any doors along the way. Only they- and Merrick- did not seem slightly awed by the cavernous halls, draped with thirty-foot-tall paintings of old battles and outdated myths. Merrick gave them a cursory glance, then seemed to disregard them.
At length, they came to the doors of the Council chambers. Merrick, Auristen, and the procession stood and waited while the guard captain went inside to discuss...something. Eventually, the locks on the doors were disabled, the bolts were drawn back, and the doors were slowly swung open.
The guard returned.
"You may enter," he said. "But only Captain Auristen and Captain Merrick. The procession will stay outside."
Merrick looked at Auristen, who nodded.
Seen from above, the Council chamber looked a great deal like most theatres of the age, and this was no accident. Before its renovation for use by the seven most powerful people in Manderia, it had been the palace theatre. Where Lord Danster, representative of the Merchant's Guild, sat brooding beneath his robes of office, jesters and fire-eaters had once capered about for the delight of royal children. Merrick found the idea strangely appropriate. The Council chamber still played to an audience, of sorts. The raised semicircular platform of wood behind which the Council members sat opened out to a much larger room filled with four tiers of seating for ministers, statesmen, nobility, and anyone related to the matter at hand. Since nothing of obvious importance was up for discussion on that day, only a smattering of people sat in on the meeting.
"My most esteemed members of the Council of Manderia," the Speaker intoned. "The matter to be brought before your wise judgement is the appointment of a second Captain to the Manderian City Guard. Will you hear the matter at this time?"
"We will review the matter at this time." It sounded like an old rote. "Proceed."
The Speaker turned to Merrick and Auristen. "May I introduce to you the seven esteemed members of the Council of Manderia. High Priest Sirion, representative of the Church of Gore. Magus Coraleus, Guildmaster of the Guild of Mages. Mister Albert Coley, representative of industry and resources. Lord Danster, representative of the Merchant's Guild. Lord Ander, representative of the Noble Houses of Manderia. Magus Silverscale, representative of the Guild of Sorcerers. High Justice Ulrich da Helfenstein, representative of the Paladins and Judges." The Speaker gestured at each without looking away from Merrick and Auristen. Each Council member nodded in turn when named, except Silverscale.
The Speaker turned to face the Council. "And come before you for judgement are Captain Auristen of the Manderian City Watch, and Captain-in-asking Merrick, of Manderia. Please render your wise and just decisions, O honorable Council."
The Speaker, apparently finished, walked over to the wall and stood against it, holding his book of names.
"Merrick of Manderia."
Merrick stepped forward until he stood within the area of floor surrounded by the semicircular platform of the Council. Seven faces looked down on him. None appeared particularly friendly.
"You wish the position of Captain of the Watch, correct?" This was Ulrich.
"That is correct."
"I see. And what do you believe you will bring to the city as a result?"
Merrick considered, "Responsibility."
"You view yourself as a responsible citizen, then?" Lord Danster was watching him with raised eyebrows.
"That is a matter of opinion," Merrick said carefully. "But I wasn't talking about me."
"A man murders another man. Whose responsibility is it?"
They considered this. At last, Ander said: "The Watch, the guard, and the Judges, respectively. The first to apprehend, the second to imprison and guard, the third to pass judgement."
Ander scowled. "Excuse me?"
"It's everyone's responsibility," Merrick said. "Everyone in the community. After all, it affects them all in some way, and it is THEIR community. Whether you want to think about it economically- perhaps the murdered man was an important merchant or fruit seller (Danster looked up at this)- or morally, or in terms of personal safety, the duty of apprehending and dealing appropriately with the murderer is everyone's business. The purpose of the Watch is to augment this responsibility, to remind the people of it. Problem is, of course, no one remembers. They wouldn't believe it if they did. And that is why there will always be murderers and thieves and assassins who roam unchecked, even in the greatest city in the world. Especially in the greatest city in the world. Responsibility is the most important quality any creature can have, short of honor. That is what I would bring to this city, in a perfect world, since you ask."
Ander bristled. "You would have innocent people put their lives at risk to stop criminals and thieves?"
"You're god-damned right I would." Merrick frowned. "But you'll never understand what I mean, so let me rephrase. I will do everything in my power to protect and help the good and honorable people of the city. However, I will never be anything more than an old man with a sword unless we establish a code of honor and responsibility in this city."
No one said anything.
"Does that satisfy you?"
Sirion cocked his head. "How do you mean?"
"Do you have any more questions?"
They did not.
"May I go then?"
They looked at each other.
"Don't you want to know if you have the position or not?" Sirion asked.
"Not really, no. I'm sure I'll find out one way or another."
They looked at each other again.
"May I go now?"
Coraleus looked up. "Sure."
Silverscale never said anything.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.