The King's Judges



Translation by the author.
The book is only available in German at the present time (from 1 August, 2005)

Chapter Two

It was already getting dark when Sir Orlando Trelawney walked home through the badly-lit alleys of St. Clement Danes. A light drizzle had set in and sprayed into his face so that he had to pull his hat down low over his eyes and wrap his cloak closer around his body. After plodding along deep in thought for a while he suddenly realised that he was going the wrong way. Confused, he stopped in front of a dunghill on which there was a dead rat and looked around trying to find out where he was. He could not cope. Inside him was nothing but painful emptiness that paralysed his entire body and turned every movement into a strenuous effort.

Death! Everywhere he showed his mocking face, his grinning skull. Of course, it was nothing unusual for Trelawney to witness death. In the times he lived in he always crossed your path. War, diseases, executions, he had seen them all. There was no guarantee of reaching a grand age, and the weakest, the children, were the most vulnerable. Actually, he was used to seeing people die and being a judge he had pronounced more than one death sentence. But now everything had changed. First, he had lost his wife, his patient and devoted companion, and now his old friend Peckham, whom he had known since they had studied together at the Temple. It seemed such a cruel, senseless death, apparently due to a mistake made by the physician or the apothecary who had concocted the medicine. He still had to check these possibilities.

He had lost everything he had valued. There was nothing left for him. Had he really led such a sinful life to be punished in this painful way? Why did God want him to suffer from loneliness and despair? Sometimes he envied the superstitious Catholics who were always surrounded by their saints and who could find protection under the cloak of the Blessed Virgin. Being a Protestant he was denied such consolation. Although he regarded the Roman Faith as irrational, in this very moment he understood why the small community of Catholics still in existence in England so firmly adhered to it.

Spellbound, Sir Orlando was still staring at the carcass of the rat, the symbol of death. The emptiness inside him slowly gave way to a deep dull pain that was tightening around his chest. The thought of his home in Chancery Lane held no attraction for him. It was cold and empty despite its splendour. The only thing awaiting him there was the shrill voice of his nit-picking niece nagging at him and accusing him of not finding her a suitable husband.

Like a man walking in his sleep Trelawney moved on and only stopped when he heard the drunken rabble in a nearby tavern. The judge entered without hesitation and looked around through the thick clouds of blue tobacco smoke for a table at the back where he could sit by himself and deaden the pain in his breast with wine.

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When he woke up, he did not know where he was. Someone was tugging at his clothes. Convinced that he was being robbed he instinctively began to struggle against his attackers and lashed out blindly. A voice shouted something he did not understand. He heard somebody running through the mud. When his eyes, still blurred by drink, were finally able to focus he saw a young man with long tousled hair bending over him. He spoke with a strong Irish accent, a sound so strange and foreign that it kindled a sudden undefined feeling of fear inside Trelawney.

"Are you hurt, Sir? Do you need help?"

The young Irishman grabbed his arm to lift him back on his feet. Being seized in this vigorous fashion felt to Sir Orlando, in his helpless condition, like an attack. Any moment now he expected to be beaten with a fist or stabbed with a knife. Furiously he pushed his assailant off, struggled to his feet and groped for his sword. Yet before he was able to draw his weapon the Irishman had quickly jumped out of reach.

Angrily shaking his fist against the judge he shouted in a bitter hateful voice: "Damn Englishman! You can go to hell for all I care!" The next moment he had disappeared into the night like a ghost.

Only with great effort did Trelawney manage to keep himself upright. He was not a habitual drunkard and only a few times before had he ever been completely legless. It took some time before he realised that he had been lying in a doorway. He could not remember leaving the tavern or falling asleep on his way home. Examining his clothes he was surprised to find his purse still hanging at his belt. Fortunately he had woken up before this Irish footpad had the chance to rob him.

A fresh wind had come up and made him shiver. Trelawney straightened his cloak which had slipped from his shoulders and wrapped himself in it. Checking the direction he plodded through the mud towards Chancery Lane. Finally he arrived at his house, staggered over the threshold and unsteadily climbed up the stairs to his bed chamber. His niece and the servants were sleeping peacefully. Nobody cared about his being there or not. Engulfed by abysmal exhaustion the judge sank onto the edge of the four-poster bed and struggled to take his shoes off.

Suddenly the door opened silently and his manservant, Malory, slipped inside, with bleary eyes, to help him undress. The compassionate look Malory cast at his master confronted Trelawney so painfully with all his wretchedness that he irritably took one of his mud-soiled shoes and threw it at his manservant.

"Get out! Leave me alone!" he bellowed. "Leave me alone!"

Malory obeyed him silently but not without casting the judge another pitying glance. Sobbing, Trelawney buried his face in his hands. Then he sank on the bed, dressed as he was, and drifted into restless sleep.

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He was woken by a nasty itch on his entire body. Without noticing he had scratched himself violently until his skin was bleeding.

It was already broad daylight. Looking around in a state of confusion, he saw that during the night his clothes had come alive. Something was creeping over the creases, crawling underneath his doublet, then between his linen shirt and his skin, biting his flesh and ravenously sucking his blood. Revulsion washing over him, the judge jumped off the bed, tore off his wig and clothes and threw everything to the ground. Every single piece of his clothing was crawling with lice.

Trelawney could not help swearing. He hated these pests and always kept himself clean enough to keep them away. Consequently, he could only have caught these vermin during his visit to the tavern last night. It was the punishment for his godless drunkenness, in which he had sought to forget his misery.

Trelawney was about to call for his manservant, when his gaze became fixed on the heap of clothes piled up before him. Carefully he pulled the shirt and the doublet, which were lying on top, to the side and looked at the cloak, puzzled. Only now did he realise that it was not his but someone else's. And then it became clear to him how he had caught the lice. When leaving the tavern he must have taken another guest's cloak by mistake. The darkness and his drunken state had prevented him from noticing his error. So he had only himself to blame.

Irritated he called for Malory, trying to ignore the tormenting itch the bites of those noisome beasts were causing on every part of his body. But to no avail. Again and again he caught himself scratching his already bleeding skin.