“This man,” shouted the Magistrate, “who has come before us, an inhuman wretch, devoid of pity; void and empty; stands before you exposed. Let they who have issue with him come forth, and tell to us his crimes.”
“Crimes?” grinned Stout Henry, his quilted jerkin somewhat soiled, the tattered cape with an embroidered wolf on the back, its muzzle raised to howl at the moon, much the worse for wear. “The only crime here is how little you offered for those good, solid candlesticks that look JUST LIKE GOLD. I could get twice as much in Greenswold, you know.”
The Magistrate grimaced. “By the pleasure of the Duke, I summon Farmer Jonas…”
The hours wore on. Farmer Jonas cried once more as he described the tragic fate of his prize beagle, Poochie. The pastor of the chapel that Henry had robbed described, with a dead, flat, voice, the carnage of that day. The owner of the ducal livery stables explained how Henry had distracted him and stolen the Duke’s proud mare. The merchants of the bazaar recounted in amazement the sort of animal remains that Henry attempted to sell them.
“Have you nothing to say to this?” demanded the Magistrate after each person had their time to recount Stout Henry’s crimes.
Stout Henry would only shrug. “Next!” he’d say. “Next! Next! Next! Continue! OK! Man, I hate these friggin’ walls of talk. Could you all just speak faster so we can get to the end and you all can just tell me where I have to go and what I gotta kill?”
“It ends now,” snarled the Magistrate. “Good Duke Ferd, this man waits upon your judgment.”
The Duke rose from his chair. He’d not said a word throughout the entire trial.
“Make room,” said the Duke, “and let this villain stand before us.” The jailers grabbed Stout Henry off the stand and shoved him before the Duke.
“Henry,” continued the Duke. “The whole of this village thinks, and we think, too, that you cannot be alone in your villainy. and that you lead’st in the fashion of your malice to the last hour of your thought. How say you?”
“What the farg are you on about?” said Stout Henry. “Talk ENGLISH. Friggin’ roleplayers. You want to know why I do what I do? You’re such a noob. Killing stuff is the only way to WIN.”
“Then,” said the Duke, dismissively, “we win. Magistrate, conduct this villain to the care of the gallows keeper, and let his death seal his crimes.”
The villagers who had crowded the courthouse let out a roar, and were barely kept from tearing apart Stout Henry as he was hustled to the courtyard where the gallows stood ready. The hooded gallows keeper settled the noose around Stout Henry’s neck, and adjusted and tightened the knot. Guardsmen kept the crowd not more than a spear’s length from the gallows. Duke Ferd himself stood on the porch of the courthouse.
“Gallows keeper,” shouted the Duke, “perform your office. Let Stout Henry be hanged until he is dead, and may God have mercy on his soul.”
The gallows keeper put two massive hands on the lever that would release the trap door beneath Stout Henry’s feet and looked out at the crowd. They roared for blood. He slammed the lever to the other side. The trap door fell away, and Stout Henry began to fall.
The crowd suddenly fell silent.
So did everything else.
A gnome stood beneath the gallows. There was a strange, glowing contraption strapped to his back. He cut Stout Henry’s noose, and Henry fell to the ground.
“About time you got here,” growled Henry. “I almost had to run back from the graveyard.”
“Give me a break,” sniped the gnome. “One of those paws you gave me was twisted, and I had to run it through my Tarsalator. You’re just lucky my Chronopawser only killed one of my assistants when I tested it, or I’d have been too late.”
“Let’s get going,” said Stout Henry. “I hear they have some battleground action going on in Nodding Fields.”
By the time the crowd noticed Henry’s sudden disappearance, both Stout Henry and the mysterious gnome were halfway out of the county.
Who is the mysterious gnome? Where is Nodding Fields? Why does Duke Ferd talk so funny? Tune in next week where we’ll answer at least some of these questions, in Stout Henry Gets Lost.