Curse of the Celts, стр. 2

found out too late, to cause intense pain if we were too far apart. The general desire to comply was only blocked by the charmed Celtic pendant Devyn had given me, the one that allowed me to remain the new me, the me who no longer did as her parents – and her city – wanted, but it had been rudely ripped from my neck weeks ago in Richmond. I realised I was not clouded by that urge to comply now, and my free hand found the familiar disc with its etched triquetra engraving. I was comforted to find it returned, however mysteriously. The crowd stilled again.

“You are accused of crimes against the Code. How do you plead?”

This time I could sense the approach of the latest accused taking his place beside me, could feel the rage and desperation and defiance rippling off him as he stepped closer. Devyn. I breathed more easily underneath the confining mask. He was here. The crowd roared as the third figure on the sand also refused to kneel. The growing displeasure of the mob at the unfolding events was evident in the noise that came at us like a tide of rolling surf. I had once sat in the audience here watching an accused take the sands, the masked and hooded figure cowed by the waves of sound coming from those seated in the arena as well as pouring down from the balconies high up in the glass and steel sky towers that encircled the ancient amphitheatre.

Another hand found mine. We were not cowed; we stood united. Like something out of a story. Stories of adventure sound so much more impressive from the outside. Guinevere, Elizabeth Tewdwr, Boadicea… Had their knees felt as unstable as mine did now? Had their mouths tasted of copper in their fear?

“Citizens, we are in uncharted territory here.” Praetor Calchas addressed the mob. “These three are accused of serious crimes. Their story is shared, and their crimes are many. This extraordinary Mete has been assembled to deliver swift justice and punishment to these three who were captured attempting to escape the city last night.”

Whatever happened to waiting until the city passed judgement? Was Praetor Calchas so sure that we would be found guilty? My mind raced. The charms must have failed to work. If they had enough on us to serve up to the crowd then we were indeed damned.

“The first is accused of repeat offences. He has been punished here before. Despite the mercy of the city, he has returned to the sands once more.”

There was a shove from behind, and Devyn stepped forwards, breaking contact.

“You are accused of hacking. You have further offended the Code by aiding and abetting the escape of a convicted Codebreaker. Kneel to receive the judgement of the city.”

There were the sounds of a scuffle. What was going on? In accordance with the law, Devyn had the right to refuse to face the city. By standing, he was choosing to go straight to sentencing. We would receive no fair trial, so why go through the charade?

“Your choice to refuse trial is dismissed. Your crimes are heinous and the city has the greater right here to bear witness. Begin.”

I assumed Devyn’s mask would still be on as the film rolled. Despite Calchas’s unprecedented overruling of the most basic right of a citizen to refuse trial, the rules of the Mete were in many ways just; anonymity was total until the judgement was made. The accused’s identity was protected by the mask and concealed in the evidentiary film that was shown to the citizenry. I could picture everything: the praetor on the balcony in front of us lifting his hand to indicate that the evidence should be played on the screens; the crowd turning their attention from the more commonly solitary figure on the sands to the big screens that allowed the audience within the ancient amphitheatre to watch the broadcast that was simultaneously being viewed everywhere in the city; the forum, highwalks, upper gardens – all public spaces would be empty as the citizenry assembled in front of hundreds of thousands of screens in homes across the city, from the hovels in the warrens of the eastern stews to the lofty, leafy levels of the towers in the western suburbs I had called home.

The crowd hushed as the film started. I heard the sentinels enter the civics classroom in the basilica and pull Devyn out. This was the moment when all this had started, when I took the illegal device from his pocket. There was a snippet of him being questioned and then a replay of the Mete I had attended, unaware at the time I was witnessing my classmate’s sentence and subsequent flogging.

The crowd muttered, outraged to discover the accused was a known Codebreaker who had previously taken the sands and been forgiven for a capital offence. The film played on and the mob reluctantly quieted to hear the praetor’s instructions that he be cleaned up and his memory wiped to see if they could get his accomplices.

Me. He had led them to me.

I heard my voice discussing the tech with Devyn, discussing what he planned to do with it. It was an early conversation before I had worn the triquetra pendant. The crowd was barely reacting; my identity must be concealed. I didn’t understand. The praetor had referred to Devyn as having assisted a Codebreaker, but it couldn’t be me because until convicted I was merely accused. Who was he referring to? I listened fiercely to follow the events unfolding on screen. There wasn’t a great deal of audio; the charms must have worked for the most part, protecting our conversations from being captured despite what must have been close surveillance. The crowd gasped as they recognised a second person. It had to be Oban, the apprentice tailor to whom the mob had shown leniency on the same night Devyn was flogged. Then I heard Oban and Marina discussing Devyn’s offer to