A Night in Jail

Author:  Torenai Vyrdimion
Source:  Asemath Academy, Library Hall

"I DONT LIKE DWARVES!" yelled the large Human.

Maur was inclined to let it slide.  He knew his own worth, and he wasn't about to lower it in a drunken brawl.  "Lad, sober up," he said, glancing grimly into the face of the tall, belligerent youth.  "Should you want to take me on later, I'll whittle your mother a smaller son."  And he turned to leave.

Then he felt a heavy hand clasp his shoulder, heard the rasp of a blade being drawn behind his back.  As it descended Maur evaded more swiftly than anything that compact had a right to--and the sword bit off a portion of a tabletop.  "Hey!" grumbled Majeau.  "I just paid Sebitzki good gold for those."

The red-faced giant paid no attention.  He raised his broadsword again and brought it down where Maur was glaring up at him.  The weapon missed the agile Dwarf, but rendered the back of an ornately carved chair into kindling wood.  The innkeeper moaned.  "You can't claim that was new goods, Majeau," Maur said.

"It wasn't.  But it still means one sitting customer less until it's replaced."  Majeau scowled at the lanky Human barbarian.  "You'll pay for what you've ruined, you hooligan, and you'll apologize to a good patron of mine who's drunk more in the past than a hundred times his weight in Dwarven ale."

"I WONT!" roared the red-faced barbarian.  He raised his broadsword once more, and Majeau snapped his fingers.

Suddenly a troupe of guards charged into the tavern.  "So we've found you, Hroopne!" growled their leader.  "You've caused enough damage to our city -- time to pay the price!"

Before he could blink the barbarian found himself manacled, all his goods removed, his body dragged and dumped in a gloomy cell.  The door slammed shut with booming emphasis.  Still in a state of shock, Hroopne glanced around.

A darkly massive figure in the shadows waved a menacing talon at him.  The barbarian gulped.  It leaned forward threateningly...and resolved into the size and shape of a middle-aged male Halfling.  "Hi," said Citharon cheerfully.  "I'm a pickpocketing bard.  What brings you here?"

"I DONT KNOW," yelled the barbarian, "I WAS--"

"Please give your voice down," cautioned Citharon.  "The judge isn't especially partial to loud prisoners at this hour of the morning."

"Well, I'm not partial to being locked up for no reason.  How long have you been waiting?"

"About three mugs' worth."  The bard peered quizzically at the barbarian as the latter sat down.  "You truly have no idea why you were arrested?"

"The bartender called me a hooligan and snapped his fingers.  Next thing I knew, I was like this."  Hroopne clanked his manacles and snarled.

"Ah, hooliganism," said Citharon.  "That's it, you see."

"What is?"

"Hooliganism.  That was probably what you were arrested for.  The guards hang around Majeau's a lot, and they're used to picking up some of his livelier clientele for that.  I've never been thrown in here for hooliganism," he added.

"So what in all of Dergati's hells is hooliganism?"

The bard's face acquired a thoughtful cast.  "My friend, I can see from your expression that you have no knowledge of the our judicial system in this fair city--and I'll wager in none of the other cities of Elanthia."

"That's true," granted the larger felon.

"Tell you what.  I'll acquaint you with the different crimes that can get a person arrested, here.  In turn, you'll stake me to a drink after we both find better accommodations.  Maybe two, if you find my information especially useful.  Deal?"

The barbarian considered for a moment, then grinned broadly.  "Yeah, sure. Talk. I'm listening."

Citharon settled himself back into a corner of the cell.  "Well, first, there's hooliganism, as mentioned.  That's being a general annoyance, a pain in the right lobe to anyone and everyone you encounter.  If you punch and kick folks, attack people without provocation, kiss without permission--in fine, rile things up, you're regarded as a hooligan in the eyes of the law."

Hroopna frowned.  "I only wanted a little fun."

The bard nodded.  "I don't know what happened, but usually Majeau is pretty discerning about the difference between fun folks and the other type.  That being the kind which have too much expense on everybody else's tab."

"It was just a typical brawl, for Hodierna's sake!  What's the big deal."

"A public brawl?  My friend--you have a name, by the way?"

"Hroopna Retm."

"Well, friend Hroopna, a public brawl, that's another warrantable offense."

The barbarian stared at the bard.  "No brawling?  Anywhere?  Anytime?"

"I didn't say that," Citharon replied.  "I said brawling in public.  And the authorities are pretty lenient.  They usually get involved only when plenty of people get upset in town at the broken crockery, screamed insults and mangled bodies impeding local commerce."

"In the land I came from," reminisced Hroopna, "you got up at dawn, insulted the first person you saw, and started fighting right away.  Saved time."

Citheron smiled sympathetically.  "Few people get up at dawn in urban Elanthia, and they usually save their energy for battling monsters loaded with treasure."

"Wimps."

The bard nodded as though this was self-evident.  "Doomed to extinction under the heel of invaders like yourself, I agree.  Now, another offense which is taken just as seriously as hooliganism or public brawling is vulgarity.  There are a lot of children in Elanthia."

Hroopna snorted.  "I like this place less and less.  Cursing a lot is the sign of a real man, as any real man can tell you."

"Yes, that makes a certain sense," confessed Citheron, "but the only person I know in this city who curses fluently is Majeau's favorite bouncer, and her manhood has never been in question.  Other folks usually don't bother.  -Not that they aren't sorely tempted from time to time, mind you, especially when they get their pockets picked."

"Is pickpocketing a crime here?"

"But of course.  So is pilfering, stealing items off the shelves of our honored merchants.  Unlike those other crimes I've mentioned you may not get arrested right away for pilfering or pickpocketing.  Personally--" Citharon leaned forward and dropped his voice to a low, conspiratorial level-- "I suspect some thieves in town have a deal going with the authorities to look the other way on those warrants as long as you keep a low profile.  Of course," he said, reverting to his normal tone, "when you finally do get arrested, you're charged with all your outstanding warrants.  Not just the last straw that broke the yak's back."

"Good," the barbarian said, slamming a fist the size of a bread loaf into a palm the size of a serving platter.  "I hate pickpocketing, lowlife scum.  They shouldn't be fined, though.  Just killed.  Kill 'em all."  He laughed unpleasantly.

"I'm afraid we don't have capital punishment here in the Crossing, or in Riverhaven or any other fair-sized town I'm aware of," said Citheron.  "The best we can offer are fines or some time in the stocks.  Pay up, and you recover your goods confiscated by the guards.  Otherwise, they're auctioned off to lessen the fines."

Hroopna's eyebrows would have come together if he'd had more than one.  "Your judge better not try to auction off my broadsword, or she'll be dead in seconds On the Oath of a Retm."

"I'm sure the ground trembles wherever you step, fierce warrior," the Halfling reassured him.  "However, you mention killing, and that brings to mind the most serious crime on our books--murder.  You can kill somebody pretty far out of town without fear of the authorities intervening, generally, though if you make a habit of it, they may track you down.  However, murdering somebody any place near or in a town runs a strong risk of instant imprisonment.

"Of course, if you're looking to get imprisoned after killing somebody far, far out of town, there's no better way to ensure success than graverobbing the body you just emptied of life.  There's something about the combination of murder and graverobbing--" Citharon shuddered.

A thought struck Hroopna.  "What if I, you know...just assist somebody out of your city gates when their mind's preoccupied?  Then they accidentally die, and I wait for the body to decay.  That's not murder, because I didn't kill anyone, and it isn't graverobbing, because there's no body left to graverob."  His smug smile fell before the bard's headshake.

"No," said Citharon.  "It's very illegal.  And the folks around here don't look kindly on people who do things like that, either."

The burly barbarian scowled.  "Seems like people around here have their priorities confused.  What other crimes can you get arrested for?"

"Well, there's endangering the public, that's a pretty serious and expensive offense.  It can be anything from casting a harmful spell to deliberately opening dangerously trapped chests in public areas.  Anything done in public that's perceived as constituting a danger at large."

"Sounds like your hooliganism."

"Oh, much more dangerous than that.  You might as well compare a public enemy to a public nuisance," said Citheron.  "And here's another crime that's taken very seriously:  aiding and abetting."

Hroopna frowned.  "You mean, gambling?"

"Not betting--abetting.  It's secondhand crime.  Say I supply you with poisoned wine from one of Majeau's competitors to give away, and we're both waiting for people to die so we can collect items from their corpses.  You're the person actually doing the deed itself, but I'm guilty of aiding and abetting you in it.  If one Elanthian knowingly assists another in performing a crime, that's abetting.

"Have I mentioned trafficking in guild secrets?" Citharon licked his lips.  "I hope the judge gets to our cases, soon.  Talking and singing are very thirsty tasks, you know."

The barbarian shook his head.

"Well, some guilds have passwords, secret rituals, private locations where their members commune with the Gods or whatever.  Whether you're guildmember or outsider, if you pass along this information to others and that guildleader finds out, matters can go very badly for you.

"Then, there's littering."

Hroopna stared unbelievingly at the bard.  "Oooo, I'm scared."

"I can't say I've ever heard of anybody succeeding in that, though," admitted Citheron.  "You'd have to work very hard at it in order to get warranted.  Would be some sort of achievement."

"Have I missed anything?  Ah, yes, disturbing the peace."

"But that's still another hooligan thing."

"Not really.  Hooligans disturb the peace physically.  But if a visitor is hawking their wares in Hodierna's quiet Temple--or screaming something over and over in an area set aside for healing, that's disturbing the peace.  In fact, you may be arraigned for that, too."  Citharon pondered thoughtfully.

"What a stupid place!  Why don't they just replace every one of their little stupid laws with one big one that says, Don't Do Anything?  It'd save time." Hroopna spit in disgust.

"I'd suggest," said Citharon, "that the basic law underlying much else is simply not to rile too many people too much of the time.  It's sort of an unwritten code.  Live and flourish by it, rot in here against it."  He would have explained at length, which is the way of bards and Halflings both, but a guard chose just this moment to demand the appearance of both prisoners in court.

The judge was more lenient than her glaring demeanor suggested.  Citharon was let off with a short warning; and Hroopna received a small fine for hooliganism alone, since it was his first offense.  The latter wasn't too pleased, however, since he had to pay his full debt at Town Hall to get back his goods from the Guard House; or risk losing them to charity after an hour had passed.

"Now, my friend," said Citharon, as they exited onto Commerce Avenue, "it's time to celebrate our honored judge's wisdom--and you owe me a brew.  Or two.  Let's celebrate!"

The barbarian shook his head.  "It's time for me to celebrate, maybe.  But I don't remember inviting you along."

Citharon blinked.  "No? What about our arrangement?"

Hroopna's lip curled.  "I lied.  And there ain't goblin grut you can do about it."  He grasped the hilt of his broadsword and grinned maliciously at the Halfling.  "I got enough coins to beat a first murder rap.  You better leave before I carve you into even tinier pieces, you little freak."

Citharon chuckled.  "Oh, that's okay," he said, hugging Hroopna.  "I never really expected to collect.  People who destroy taverns haven't got much moral sense in my book.  Bye, now."  And he waved, turned, and quickly sauntered out of sight and into the shadows.

It was only fifteen minutes later, as Hroopna reached into his purse to purchase an ale at one of the Crossing's seedier backalley pubs, that he realized he was minus all his remaining silver.