The heavy courtroom door swung silently on its hinges before the prisoner.
Arm in arm with the powerful guards he was led out into the hushed silence that fell before him. All eyes probed and prodded at him as he walked across the room before taking his seat at the cramped worn desk.
Before him stood the Judges seat, raised high and looming over him and indeed the entire room.
Whispers began to surface from the depth of the silence, murmurings and ponderings about the events that were to unfold before the room.
To the prisoners right sat the prosecution, dressed smartly and curtly, his hair brushed taut, smug arrogance painted upon his face framed by a well kept goatee and his eyes dancing with hellish fire.
No defence sat by the prisoner. It was just himself and himself alone to contend with the accusations; the crimes and the offences... His crimes and his offences.
The whispers matured into grumblings and further aged to conversations, gasps and giggles. But before they could reach maturity they died quickly as the door behind the Judges seat opened noiselessly. All eyes fixed upon the doorway and from the nothingness emerged the Judge.
In one glance of his fiery gaze he surveyed the entirety of all before him and every attention was his. His face was drawn serious and solemn. He raised a steady hand and brushed his whitened hair from his knitted brow before smoothing the golden trim of his darkened robes.
“Welcome”, his voice trumpeted as he approached his seat, “shall we begin?”
He addressed this question to the two rows of people seated on his right that sat on the fringe of the room.
The prisoner turned his head left to view them; they who would decide his fate, those of the jury. Some returned his gaze blankly, as though staring at a fly landing on a wall. The prisoner shuddered to himself and refocused his gaze at the table before him.
The Judge took his seat in silence, like the Ancient of Days, and surveyed the room once more with a piercing glance. Then, clearing his throat and shuffling a few pages around, he began.
“John Gracey,” his eyes fell upon the prisoner with a look that saw through him, “You have been brought before the court with various accusations.”
At this, the prosecution moved in his chair impatiently and opened his mouth to speak, but his tongue was held as the Judge raised a finger to silence him as he continued.
“As you will be unfamiliar with court proceedings I shall briefly explain; firstly we shall have a presentation of evidence led by the prosecution, then we shall call upon your witnesses and hear your supplications, then the jury shall make their decision. And lastly I shall have my judgement. Have you understood all that has been said?”
The prisoner nodded grimly.
“Alright then, prosecution, you may begin your case,” he concluded with a wave of his hand to permit the Accuser to begin and rested himself back in his chair.
The Accuser rose to his feet gleefully, tweaking his goatee as he did so and greeted the room with a devilish grin.
“Ladies and gentleman of the jury,” he said, his voice lucid and droll. He began to prowl around the open floor, like a lion stalking his prey as he went on, “What a pleasure it is to be here before you all, though I need not flatter you with pleasantries for the case before us is anything but pleasant. This man, John Gracey, is guilty. You know to look at him that this is so.
He has perpetrated crime after crime after crime. Each crime more repugnant than that which preceded it. The long, exhausting list lies before you all. He can make no defence for himself.
Permit me to repeat myself; this man is guilty. If I were granted the power I would condemn him myself!”
The Judges bright eyes flickered and his eyebrow twitched but he remained silent.
“Yet,” the Accuser continued, “I shall carry on with the formalities so as to remove any doubt from your mind. I shall let the evidence speak for itself!”
He concluded confidently and sat back in his seat, waving his hand in the air. The room darkened and before all, upon a screen before them, commenced the evidence; scene after scene of John Gracey committing each and every offence of which he was accused.
The prisoner blushed and burned where he sat. His eyes ached watching the scenes yet he couldn’t avert his eyes. His mind doubled with scene within itself and the anguish of what he had done crushed him.
Gasps and groan bubbled up and burst around his ears as the onlookers stared in horror.
Shame consumed him.
The footage played for what seemed like an eternity. Year upon year, crime upon crime, offence upon offence. Nothing was missed.
When the unbearableness of it all was cresting upon its wave and ready to crush him the footage ended and the lights rose, bringing with it a horrified silence.
The Accuser sat comfortably within the silence, allowing it to marinate, thicken and boil.
He slowly took to his feet, his head slightly bowed. He held an apologetic air as he faced the jury, as though he was sorry for having to put them through that torture, yet his eyes spoke his truth. The delight at what they had seen he could not mask.
“My good people,” he began flicking his tongue across his dried lips, “Need we carry on further? You have seen it for yourself. Cold hard evidence. Forgive me for my earlier arrogance when I spoke of his guilt, but now I hope you understand it. There can be no doubt, no mercy, no clemency. He is guilty. We have all seen it!”
A murmur of assent bullied its way along the jury.
He continued, enthused by the murmur, “What a vile and wicked man sits before you! Crimes that would make the prisoners of the darkest cells shudder! How can there be any other decision? How can there be any other judgement?!”
His voice had risen to almost a squeal such was his excitement. His eyes flamed and dance hypnotically, his arms curled and flexed with every word like a snake wrestling with his meal, his teeth glinted within his malevolent smile.
John Gracey sat silent.
The Judge cleared his throat and suddenly the Prosecution came back to himself and deflated somewhat. He knew a cautious look to the Judge, nodded and took his seat quietly.
“Have you anything to say in your defence to what has been shown?” asked the Judge calmly staring intently at John Gracey.
John Gracey said nothing, lowered his eyes and shook his head.
“Very well,” continued the Judge grimly, “Let us call forth your witnesses, of which I see only one name.” He perused his papers and nodded satisfactorily. “Bring forward the witness.”
A deeper hush fell on the room as all eyes scanned to get a look at the witness who was walking forward towards the box. A trickle of unformed sentences floated quietly before nestling back into the hush.
“Now,” began the Judge, “You are close to the accused, yes? His guardian as it were?”
The witness nodded.
“And what have you to say against the evidence provided?”
The witness and the prisoner met in their gaze. Pained looks were shared; remorse, regret and consternation.
“I have nothing to say”, said the witness turning to face the Judge, “The evidence is as it was. It cannot be disputed.”
“So he is guilty of the crimes?”
“Yes,” came the pained answer.
A collective gasp of shock ran out across the room. The Accuser grinned greedily at John Gracey. John Gracey sank his head.
“Hmm,” pondered the Judge, staring between the two, “And what of his character? What have you to say in regards to his character?”
The witness looked deeply at his friend before him.
“I believe, no, I know he is a good man under it all. He... tries. He fails, surely, but he tries. He knows the wrong he does, he torments himself because of it, although he still does wrong. And he did repent and turn himself in, as it were. I honestly believe he is a good man, if that carries any weight in proceedings.”
The Accuser leapt to his feet, his face now contorted in fury, positively shrieking with rage.
“No! No! It does not and cannot carry weight! You can keep your beliefs to yourself! The evidence is all that matters! He is guilty and must pay! To the dungeons or the gallows with him!”
The ring of his words vanished as the Judge raised a finger to silence him.
Still the Accuser looked on in blind fury but said no more and eventually took his seat once more.
The witness looked unabashed by the vitriol and turned his attention to the Judge once more who started his final enquiry.
“Finally,” he said gravely, “and I want you to ponder on this... if you were the judge and if justice were to prevail how would you find the defendant and what would be his punishment?”
A stunned deadness now pushed out against all sides of the room, akin to the muteness of the grave. The witness looked between the Judge and John Gracey silently for a minute.
“If I were the Judge?” the witness began shakily, “and if justice were to prevail? I... He... I would find him guilty.”
Tears began to flow from the witness but he continued.
“And he should be sent to the dungeons. To the darkest cell. Far removed from the light to die his death there.”
The prisoner and the witness locked tear filled eyes again. John Gracey nodded in understanding. The Accuser slammed his fist upon the desk and the silence was broken by instantaneous chatter.
“Have you anything to say in response?” the Judge asked of John Gracey but again a shake of the head was all he answered.
The Judge thanked the witness who stepped down noiselessly.
The jury shared looks amongst each other with nods and eye gestures.
“There you have it!” cried the Accuser triumphantly, “There is no case even to answer!”
Again he was silenced by the Judges finger who in turn addressed the jury.
“Members of the jury, can you please make your way out of this chamber and make your verdict.”
“As if that’s even needed!” cried the Accuser.
But up the jury rose and seat by seat made their way beyond the Judges seat to deliberate.
Hopelessness washed over John Gracey as he sat alone. The Accuser clacked his tongue and drummed a tune to himself on the desk. The Judge sat silently surveying.
It was not a long wait. The onlookers had not even time to finished their own conversations before the door of the antechamber opened and the jury returned, faces darkened and lowered.
They took their seat and one arose, as is habit, and read their verdict: “Guilty of all offences.”
John Gracey did not react.
He knew what was coming and had resigned himself to it.
The Accuser clapped and jeered with glee, rubbing his calloused hands together, his eyes ablaze once more.
The Judge nodded and quietened the babbling stream of tones that came from the onlookers.
“John Gracey, please stand,” came the order from the Judge. He obeyed wordlessly.
“You have been found guilty by this court of all crimes, how do you answer?”
“Guilty.” Replied John Gracey without hesitation.
The Judge nodded as the Accuser grinned and lay back in his seat to watch the coming onslaught.
“Guilty...” repeated the Judge, “Indeed. Of that there can be no doubt. Even your closest friend has accused you. And indeed, as has been said, justice demands perfect punishment. For there can be no crime without punishment.”
He shifted his weight in his seat.
“Bearing in mind you have carried some punishment, for as we were told you are a good man beneath it all. And a good man is owner of a conscience. And a man with a conscience suffers with his sin as part of his punishment whilst on earth. But I stress the word part for it is only a small part. Your repentance is also acknowledged by the court but still, crime demands punishment; retribution, reparation... justice must be served.
As has already been stated, the just retribution for your crimes is to die a death within the cells, the darkest cell-“
The Judge was cut short by a shrill shriek from the Accuser who had leapt to his feet in glee.
“SIT!” bellowed the Judge also on his feet and the Accuser shrivelled before him.
The Judge took his seat again and continued, “the darkest cell is your just punishment. However, I hold in my hand a supplication on your behalf. For redemption has already been paid, indeed you have been ransomed by Another and bought for the highest price - another has taken the burden of your crimes so that you may be free.
And with that, justice is served and I grant you mercy and clemency, and declare you to live as a free man.”
The Accuser howled in agony and despair as the gavel was brought down with all authority.
The onlookers burst into glorious cheer and applauded loudly, drowning out the howls which were lost in the tumult.
John Gracey arose with tears of joy, smiled warmly and thanked the Judge who nodded back to him, and with that left the courtroom.