Assistant Prosecutor Jeziale rose from his seat—a unique specimen for a Skeletal. Taller than most bone demons, at six-foot five, with glowing orange eyes—instead of the usual yellow–he was indeed an intimidating figure. Judge Hovrel wondered, not for the first time, if that wasn’t the reason the Head Prosecutor recruited this particular Skeletal to his team.
Jeziale motioned with a bony hand for his client to take the witness stand and waited silently until the ferryman was settled in. Then, in a gravelly voice common to his species, due to their penchant for the occasional spontaneous wail and shriek, Jeziale asked the plaintiff to relate the events of November 18th, the date Hector Greely arrived on the shores of the Acheron and requested passage to the UnderWorld gate.
“Well, it were a slow day for customers that cold blustery morn,” Charon began. “The only one waiting at the dock when I sailed up was that ghost over there.” Charon pointed a gnarled finger at the elderly ghost seated at the defense table.
“Let the record note the plaintiff indicated the newly deceased spirit, Hector Greely,” Jeziale rasped.
Charon nodded. “Aye, that’d be him all right. When I took him aboard, he seemed harmless enough. We made a little idle chit-chat; you know, standard stuff about the weather, how we’d died–that sort of thing. We were almost half-way to the gate when I realized Greely had yet to pay his fare for the ride.” A low grumble suddenly erupted across the ghostly audience seated in the back of the courtroom and Judge Hovrel quickly beat his gavel to call for order. He was fully aware there could be a few disruptions–a significant fraction of the spirits here had experience with the ferryman and his inflated fees for passage to the UnderWorld. Hovrel felt a pang of regret he hadn’t delayed the hearing until tomorrow. If he had, he could have arranged a closed proceeding for this case.
“The audience will remain silent during the testimony,” Hovrel warned the restive spirits in the spectator section, before turning to Charon. “You may continue.”
Charon seemed unperturbed and picked up where he left off. “So, I stopped me boat and asked politely for the two silver coins to complete the passage. Greely told me he only had one silver coin to pay for his ride.” Charon snorted in disgust. “One coin! Where has this bloke been? The ferry ride hasn’t cost one coin since the time of Odysseus!”
Another angry buzz from the spectators interrupted Charon again. With a frustrated sigh, Hovrel banged his gavel twice and looked at the Bailiff, a burly gray phantom, standing watch in the far-left corner of the room. “If members of the audience cannot remain silent, I request you remove them from my courtroom,” he said. The Bailiff nodded curtly and walked over to stand behind the spectator box.
Hovrel waved a hand at Charon. “Continue.”
Charon shrugged. “So, I handled it the way I’ve always handled short-fares; I told him he were going to have to swim the rest of the way to the gate.”
“And then what happened?” the assistant prosecutor croaked.
The ferryman smiled grimly. “Charybdis got a bee in her bonnet and mustered up a squall, nearly swamping us.” Charon leaned forward and pointed an accusatory finger at the defendant. “And that’s when this mutinous ghost tried to take control of me vessel. He grabbed at the pole in me hands, trying to wrestle it away. I fought hard, but he was a strong bugger, stronger than he looks, mark you! As we struggled, a rogue wave crashed over the bow, drenching us both. Greely wrenched the pole from me dripping hands and gave me a hard shove backwards. It was then that I lost me footing and toppled into the river.” A pleased murmur rippled across the courtroom. This time, Hovrel ignored the disruption and it quickly died down.
“Luckily, the squall passed as fast as it rose up and I were able to swim back to the boat,” Charon continued, “But before I reached it, one of those nasty horned vipers you sometimes find swimming in the Acheron, broke surface and bit me.” Charon held up his arm for the court to see the bandage wrapped tightly around it.
“What happened next?” Jeziale grated.
“I decided I better cooperate or be stuck in the water and risk another bite, next time somewhere a little more tender. Those snakes usually go for the juicy bits.” Charon said, barking out a harsh laugh. Judge Hovrel grimaced, doing his best to push away the image of a snake latched onto Charon’s nether regions. “Anyway, I told the ghost I’d take him to the gate for the one coin if he’d help me get back aboard me boat. He agreed and on we sailed. But when we reached the UnderWorld, I ran straight to the local constabulary and reported the assault.”
Jeziale’s cloak hood bobbed in a nod and he turned toward the defense attorney. “You’re witness,” he rasped and returned to his seat at the prosecution table.
The defense attorney known as Ravat, a hazy gray specter in a pinstripe suit, leapt from his chair enthusiastically and strode over to the ferryman. “You say you reported the assault?” he asked, leaning on the podium in front of the witness, a strange smile on his face.
“Aye,” Charon answered. “That I did.”
“And you decided to press charges?”
Charon nodded. “Aye, I did.”
Ravat swiveled on his heels and swept his arms dramatically. “And yet, I see no snake here in this courtroom.” He turned back to Charon, his head tilted to one side, smirking. “Do you?”
Charon frowned at the lawyer. “No,” he said slowly.
“But didn’t you just state it was the snake who caused the injury?” Ravat asked.
“Aye, it did. But it was Greely who pushed me into the water. The snake wouldn’t have bit me if he hadn’t done that,” Charon replied.
Ravat laughed lightly. “Ah, I see. So the charge is ‘aiding and abetting a snake’, then?”
“The charge is reckless endangerment,” the Skeletal rasped from the prosecution table.
Ravat looked at Jeziale and rubbed his blurry chin thoughtfully. “All right. Reckless endangerment.” he said, with a short concessionary nod. Ravat turned to address the Judge. “I have no further questions for the plaintiff, your Honor. I’d like to bring my client, Horace Greely, to the stand.”
To be Continued…