Segano wrote: What do your conpeople think about capital punishment?
Most folks of the Mannish persuasion in the Eastlands of the World approach capital punishment with what can only be called a reserved sense of anticipation. Typically accompanied by sacks of half-rotten fruit with which to zing the condemned Penitents, or, if the show is not as good as expected, zing the executioners. Executions are always public and are nearly always easily visible to anyone who cares to attend. Especially prominent executions attain a kind of festival atmosphere -- which ought not be too surprising; after all, street theater of this sort always attracts wandering musicians, souvenir hawkers and hot-hound-sausage mongers.
But an execution is really just the culmination of a whole calendar of judicial festivities. After all, Justice itself is a pretty open and public affair, and the People take their appropriate part in all aspects of a Penitent's trial and punishment. The court room itself, in the City of Auntimoany, in all its baroque trappings and expensive carved wood panelling, is really just a kind of theatre. Sure, you don't get the priviledge of being judicially walled up or swing from a bronze chain unless first you come before the Emperor's justice. Generally speaking, the court is a place both terrifying and full of splendour. Captial cases are always public affairs and are always heard in the grandest of the city's court rooms. In modern Auntimoany, the court room looks something like a church inside: lots of wood panelling and wood benches for the audience to sit on. There's usually a gallery or two some twenty feet above the main floor. Allegories of Justice and Mercy figure prominently in the room's decor, even if actual Justice and Mercy only rarely make an appearance in the room. Towards the centre of the space is a railing that separates the audience from the place where the action happens. In a slightly lower level is a curved dais where the panels of Prosecutors and Advocates argue the case. Another level below them is a round cage-like structure where the condemned is stationed. Along a raised dais beyond this area sit the King's Learned Men, usually 12 doctors and philosophers who argue the merits of the case as laid out by the Advocate and the Prosecutor, and who "read" the attitude and expressions of the condemned and comment on his guilt or innocence based on his actions. High above this tableau and behind an ornate wooden desk sit the panel of three or seven judges. Somber of face and saying nothing during the trial, the chief, who sits in the middle, only strikes an ancient stone martell upon the thick wood of the desk. This signals the start of the trial, and later will signal the end. The space itself is generally quite dark: the prisoner can be seen quite clearly, as light pipes throw a harsh illumination upon his cage; the lawyers are also pretty well lit, though not so brightly. The King's Men sit in semidarkness and the judges can not be discerned at all, unless one of them leans forward and some part of his face catches the light.
During the trial, the bailiff will enter the chamber and bang his cudgel on the floor thrice and call the place into order. The panel of judges, all wearing scarlet red robes and pointed hats, process in from the back, and enter a small doorway near the front where they go up to the bench. Then come the King's Men, all wearing the various colours and robes that denote their speciality or school of philosophy. Then the Advocate and the Prosecutor, wearing black robes and tall horsehair wigs and long white collars. Usually, a single side drum taps a constant beat while all these folks enter. Once all the court are arrayed and settled, a pair of kettle drums strikes up a dirgeful tattoo. Then the condemned arrives to the jeers and hard crust throwing of the crowd. Led by two bailiffs, he is taken down into the cage and secured there. The first bailiff bangs his cudgel on the floor again and the clark reads out the charges and name of the condemned: "Hear all Men and Daine present! Stands accused in these Halls of Justice of capital murther, the heinous and brutal slaying of Widdow Middlewhite, formerly of Stonecutters Row and now awaiting justice in the City Morgue, her killer Wandulf the Butcherman, a blaowman of the same Stonecutters Row. Harken now and know that Justice shall fall upon the rightly accused!"
The usual order of business, once the martell is struck, is for the Prosecutor and Advocate to state their cases, and each gets the right to pose Questions of the condemned criminal. Since Justice is a priviledge that many can not quite afford, the Advocate usually doesn't know a whole lot about the case and will try to sway the judges with flowery rhetoric and Questions that try to put the condemned person in as a good light as he may. The crowd, always looking for a good time at the expence of the man in the cage, rarely falls for it and continues by heckling the poor Advocate. They often cheer when the Prosecutor asks some cutting Question like "Soe, sir crippleshanks, what proof can thee offer their Honoures that you wasn't the one what done in poor Widdow Middlewhite?" The crowd all laugh, because they know the poor bastard in the cage has no more hope than a light frost in Hell's garden of being able to offer any kind of proof that the judges would accept in his defence. They also like the running commentary and cutting wit provided by the King's Men who also have no actual knowledge of the case, but feel quite free to comment on the condemned man's obvious mental, moral, physical or attitudinal deficits. If he is a Daine, it goes all the worse for them -- their innate honesty and fundamental ignorance of human injustice always get the crowd howling.
Needless to say, if you haven't hired a good lawyer and if you haven't brought in your proof and thus can't prove your innocence, you have little hope of winning the trial. The only hope is throw yourself on the mercy of the Court, and as you can imagine, there is precious little of that to be meted out. If you're a member of a certain number of social classes, it's generally guilty unless proven innocent. Even if you're wealthy, there's no guarantee, but there is a greater likelihood that the trial will be fairer and such often result in a light punishment, such as exile, or perhaps in rare circumstances complete exoneration. All that remains, really is for the panel of judges to retire and deliberate on your fate. This you will know even before the chief judge speaks -- when the judges return from chambers, all wearing bronze masks now to symbolise impartiality, and the chief puts on his red cap, a low cylindrical affair with a slightly poufy octagonal bit on top, you just know what will happen next, and judging by the muted gasps and murmurs of satisfaction from the audience, they all know too. The stone martel will again bang hollowly on the ancient wood of the rostrum and the judge will say to you the only words you shall have heard the whole trial: "Wandalf the Butcherman of Stonecutters Row! Know now that Justice is being done upon your body for the crime of murther, for the Law mandates it, Justice requires it and our Sovereign accedes to it. Hear now o Man and cower before your fate, for the Law commands me hand to you the Dread Sentence: that you be henceforth braced and banded, be transported from this place to that place where your life shall be made forfeit. It is the sentence of his majesty's Justice that you be taken to the Halls of Amouraz (--undoubtedly a few gasps from the audience at the hearing of the name of that dreadful place, and as often as not, the knees of even the hardest criminal will buckle just a bit--) in the walls of which you shall be immured, where you shall hear naught but your own pitiful moan and where you shall see naught but the darkness engulfing you and where you shall wait until the Lord of Hunger consume your body and at last your mouldering body shall fall to the floor and your bones shall lie in the dust of it til the end of all worlds." Three bangs of the stone martel signify the end of sentencing, the judges all depart the bench and the bailiffs will whisk you away. However, those three terrible bangs of the martel don't signify the end of proceedings -- but rather a simple change of scene, for the theater that is Law and Justice is just setting the scene for Act II...
A terrible punishment, being immured, but not quite so satisfying for the Crowd! They want to see something happen, so it will often be the case that the Penitent is transported up town for a final dance upon the airs -- a graceful swing and a twist in the wind dangling from the Yardarm, the City Gallows. Here the Penitent is taken up a tall tower directly across from the Yardarm itself, known as Daniel Jones's Swing. This is a clever form of gibbet used by the courts of justice in Auntimoany to execute capital criminals in the most entertaining and instructive means possible. It consists largely of a tall swinging yardarm out in the Langhamdale courtyard overlooking the harbor at the old City Docks. The condemned is brought out and has to climb up several flights of steps to get to the platform, which is set some distance away from the high yardarm itself. Once there, Jhonam Caftund (the generic nom de wossname of the executioner) fits the strap around the condemned man's neck and attaches that to a well calculated length of sturdy rope. Down below, a hired fiddler takes up his viol and strikes up Dan Jones Hys Jigge
, a slow and mournful a jygg as you'll ever want to dance to, that's for sure!, and the poor Penitent is then invited to step off and join the dance. From there, tis but one small step and into eternity. On a good day, the Pentient will gracefully swing down and take a couple nice turns around the swiveling yardarm -- assuming that Mr Caftund has properly calculated rope length, body weight and amount of spring in the yard arm. If all is planned well, the poor wretch should gracefully swing to and fro, his feet swooshing along perhaps a foot or no more than an ell above the spectators' heads, bobbing a little at either end of the swing in the characteristic jigging motion of the "dance upon the airs". If it doesn't quite go as planned, well, best stay out of the poor wretch's way, lest he kick you in the face on the down-swing. Or worse, splat right into the quick-food trolley. Uck.
Course, sometimes Mr Caftund is off just a tad. Then it falls to the waiting street sweepers to scrape up the bits from the cobbles. This will usually cause the gathered crowd to boo the executioner and unless he's got a back-up, he might end up with rotten fruits lobbed at him. Sometimes with bits of stone in em, you know, just to give em a bit of extra staying power.
Not many people survive a jig with old Daniel Jones. There was, back in the year of the Swatted Cat (1643), the instance where one Samwise Swithins was bidden to dance the jig of Death, but Mr Caftund failed to properly secure the rope to the yard arm. Swithins stepped off the platform all well and good, and made a beautiful arc, just barely knocking down an empty jug of cider placed on the yard as a test. But in stead of swinging back like a pendulum, the knot came undone and poor Mr Swithins kept rising up...and out...splashing down some twenty feet out in the harbour. The judges declared Swithins juridically dead, holding that no man should be executed for the same crime twice. They however had no issue whatsoever with executing him for some other crime, and, having fished him out of the harbor, sent him up the yard arm again that same evening, much to the pleasure of a discerning street populace!
There was also the strange case in Broken Kneecaps (1799) where Capt. Jack Halfshanks (formerly of the Eastern Star) was called to dance the jig of Death. In his case the rope snapped and he too went flying through the airs. Unhappily (for Halfshanks, anyway) the Eastern Star was docked in that part of the harbour and poor Halfshanks landed, impaling himself upon her bowsprit in a most humorously macabre position. The crowd was quite pleased by the performance and cheered for a full five minutes. Needless to say, Capt. Halfshanks was in no position to take a proper bow!
Of course, not all killings end with the Dread Sentence -- though the Penitent might wish it did! For example, in old Angera, a country neighboring Auntimoany, a few centuries back old King Crowell came up with some rather merry punishments indeed:
Ye Chiugeons All do quake who do harm to any Man, lest harm be done to thee! For His High Majesty has said this: the surgeon which kill a man during the operation shall cause the own hand of his choosing, that is his left or right, to be cut off by the agency of his remaining hand!
But just when you thought it couldn't get any worse: Woe betide the man that harm himself, lest further harm befall him! For His High Majesty has said this: i. the penalty for such a man as the one who has been the cause of a self mutilation by the left hand is for the other hand to be removed in a manner liable to cause much grinding of bones and great howls of pain. ii. however, the penalty for such a man as the one who has been the cause of a self mutilation by the right hand is for the other hand to be immersed in oil which shall be heated until that hand is right crispy, and then it shall be severed, and then the man shall be compelled to devour his own right hand.