Lord Erran Ives, barrister, glanced back at his client’s shadow of a wife. The babe in her lap sucked at its fist, but even he could tell the child was ill, and the children sitting quietly beside them were undernourished. The family shouldn’t even be here, but they had nowhere else to go. His sense of injustice burned like a flame in his chest as he waited for the other barrister to finish speaking.
Once it was his turn, incensed by the half asleep judge’s inattention to a poor family’s welfare, Erran drew himself up to his full intimidating height and released his outrage in his closing statement. “To allow the monstrous greed of the defendant to deprive a hardworking man and his family the roof over their heads is an injustice so foul that all Britain must stand and cry for reparations!”
As if in agreement with this impassioned speech, a gavel rose and banged against the bench—startling the half-asleep judge whose hand wasn’t on it. The judge jerked awake and stared in astonishment as the gavel flew from the bench and slammed to the floor.
Hiding his puzzlement at this bizarre flight, knowing he’d indulged in unseemly theatrics, Erran tightened his jaw and squared his shoulders for the scolding to come. He’d be lucky he wasn’t thrown out of the courtroom on his first case.
Behind Erran, the baby howled and the crowd awoke, first with a low grumble, and then with increasingly agitated murmurs of “He’s right!” and “ Hang all landlords!”
Surreptitiously studying the now inert hammer on the floor while he waited for the judge to establish order, Erran let his mechanic’s mind calculate the possibility of his shouts vibrating the bench enough to bounce off inanimate objects.
Instead of quieting at the judge and clerk’s commands, the audience started stomping and chanting louder. They’d found a rhythm in a word Erran couldn’t quite discern.
Wondering what fresh nightmare this was, he refrained from glancing over his shoulder again or he would most likely blow a gasket. Were they chanting at him? Why?
Prepared to face his punishment, Erran focused on the bench. His head itched beneath his newly-acquired wig. Swallowing a lump in his throat, he squared his shoulders and stiffened his spine. He hadn’t the wherewithal to fix his clients’ problem on his own. The court was their only resource. If Erran lost his plea, the man, his ill wife, and their three very young children would be on the streets.
He had been their only hope. Now he would be their undoing.
The judge nodded in what appeared to be approval.
Disconcerted, Erran lurched back from his self-flagellation. What did that nod mean? Why wasn’t the judge shouting at the bailiffs to haul the noisemakers from his courtroom? Or throwing Erran out for inciting a riot?
Beside Erran, his normally apathetic clerk embraced their openly weeping client. What the deuce?
Erran regretted becoming more heated than was suitable for a courtroom, but he certainly hadn’t said anything new or different to make grown men weep. Everyone despised greedy landlords. No one ever did anything about them. They were part of the landscape like sky and trees. Why tears and sympathy for stating a basic fact?
While waiting for the axe to fall—or another gavel—he finally sorted out what the crowd chanted: Reparations, reparations!
The half-asleep audience had picked up on his speech? Erran had observed a lot of cases in his years of study. He had never seen or heard anything of this sort. He glanced across the aisle. His client’s criminally abusive landlord and his solicitor were conversing nervously.
What the devil was going on? His stomach clenched and his throat locked. If the judge didn’t act soon, Erran thought he might collapse in a puddle of sweat. And the mob behind him was likely to take the courtroom apart.
The audience continued stomping and shouting, while the bailiffs did nothing and one of the new policemen ran in from the street, looking confused at the hubble-bubble.
The judge was going to throw him in jail and leave him to rot. His brothers probably wouldn’t miss him for a year or two if he ended up in chains.
He’d told them to cry for reparations—and they’d obeyed. Why?
With no gavel to restore order, the judge finally shouted, “Let the court record state that Mr. Silas Greene must forfeit the entirety of the building at 16 Foxcroft to Mr. Charles Moore and his family in perpetuity. And if said Mr. Greene should ever face this court again, he shall be fined every cent in his possession. Court adjourned.”
The crowd roared jubilantly, threatening to bring down the rafters from the vibrations.
“What does that mean?” Mr. Moore asked anxiously, wiping at his eyes.
“That the whole damned world has gone insane,” Erran replied, but the noise was too loud for his client to hear, although his clerk sent him a strange look.
“You’re possessed of the devil,” Silas Greene, the landlord, snarled as he passed their table.
The devil, what a load of crockery . . .
Appalled, Erran shuddered as he recalled that term applied to his Cousin Sylvester—the Ives with a silver tongue who’d repeatedly sold fraudulent investments until forced to escape to the Americas. This wasn’t the same at all, he told himself. He had right on his side.
It was just rare for right to triumph over wrong. And for gavels to fly, but that had to be a coincidence of vibrations and atmosphere. Devils did not exist.
Uneasy, but refusing to accept evil as an explanation of how an honorable suit over an eviction had become a triumphant melee, Erran stalked out of the chambers, discarding his robe and wig into the hands of his clerk before he escaped from the building.
“The house is mine?” Following in his wake, timid Mr. Moore stumbled in confusion as they reached the less noisy street. The Moore family huddled together, confused and waiting to be told what to do.
“The house is yours,” Erran agreed, not believing it either. “The clerks will draw up the papers and deliver them on the morrow. Tell your wife she may move out of your employer’s cellar and back home.”
Moore was weeping again, this time in apparent relief as he gave his family the verdict even Erran hadn’t expected.
Granted, the landlord had been a greedy bastard who’d thrown the young family out when offered twice the rent by a neighboring merchant—but that was business as usual for London. Erran had simply taken the case to practice in a real courtroom now that he’d passed the bar.
He’d shouted at a judge, and instead of rightfully being thrown out on his noggin—he’d won the case in spectacular fashion.
The cloud darkening the previously bright summer day seemed an ominous portent.
A crowd of his fellows swarmed up to congratulate him, and Erran tried to shake off his apprehension. Jestingly, letting himself be momentarily buoyed by triumph, he climbed up on a mounting block and made a grandiose gesture. “All bow before your new lord and master!”
His jaw dropped as his fellow students, clerks, and friends removed their tall hats and bent in half before him.
Worse, everyone on the crowded street—businessmen, urchins, and timid Mr. Moore—all performed awkward gestures of obeisance. And looked extremely confused a moment later after Erran jumped from his pedestal and fled into the nearest tavern.