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A Barrister's Informed Opinion. Sundry Cases of Great Legal Moment Encapsulated. A Youth Intervenes, Hot of Temper and Mien. The Wizard Adjudicates. A Youth Denounces, Hot of Temper and Mien. The Consortium is Recompensed!

"And thus you have it," concluded the mage. He sat stiffly in his chair, Shelyid standing behind. "And now, sirrah, I will appreciate it if you would unfold before me the manner in which I may obtain full satisfaction from these miscreants, not excluding the extraction of punitive damages for the affront they have committed to my dignity."

Across the table, the lawyer slumped in his chair, utter discouragement evident in both posture and expression. He shook his head mournfully.

"I can't see what's to be done. There's no legal case to be made—you haven't a leg to stand on. The Consortium—its subsidiary, I should say—acted within its legal rights at all times."

"Preposterous!" oathed Zulkeh. "By what legalistic legerdemain am I held responsible for this so-called 'Consortium Cosmological Contract' by the mere act of buying a ticket?"

"There is no statutory prestidigitation involved," differed the lawyer, shaking his head with some vehemence. "That's the law. I refer you to the famous case of The Consortium vs. Grandmother Hapless, in which the decision was written by that most respected jurist, the Honorable Judge Learned Hound. In his opinion, Judge Hound wrote—wait a minute, I have it here in my valise—" Mustelid rummaged around in a briefcase by his feet and brought forth a huge leather-bound book. He laid the tome on the table and rapidly flicked through the pages.

"Here it is. I will quote verbatim:

" 'Foolishness 'twould be to demand of any established commercial firm that it limit its transactions with its divers customers merely to the immediate purchase involved at any specific moment in time. For none but reactionary pedants, who fail to grasp the nature of modern industry's rise and growth, can think that any single instance of commercial exchange is but a fleeting node in the complex matrix of modern economic intercourse. Of necessity, both material and moral, all such transactions must be covered by legal bonds which encompass in their implicit nature the whole of modern society's inescapable interdependence.'"

Zulkeh was silent for many long moments, as he examined this logic in his mind. At length, he nodded his head slowly. "The argument is irrefutable, I must admit. However, it remains the case that it cannot be applied to myself, for I was never informed of this provision when I purchased my ticket. Surely the Consortium is under the obligation of informing its customers of the full ramifications of buying a ticket from them!"

"By no means!" countered Mustelid. "The Consortium's long-standing policy of 'Silence is Consent' has been upheld in court. I refer you, in this regard, to that well-known case in the annals of Groutch jurisprudence, The Consortium vs. Little Johnny Waif. This case was decided by that other most eminent of Groutch jurists, the Honorable Judge Greased Hand. His opinion concluded with the following impeccable reasoning—" Another quick searching of the pages.

" 'No legally constituted firm of good reputation and proven stability can be held responsible for the time-consuming dissemination of all the picayune details and minutia of its manifold implicit contracts to other parties who may be involved in the endless permutations of such inherent contractual obligations. For, should such a slavishly legalistic doctrine be allowed to prevail, no concern operating along sound commercial lines could long endure, so burdened would it become by foolish and unnecessary paperwork.'"

Again Zulkeh was silent for some time, as he pondered the problem. Again he nodded his head slowly.

"The logic cannot be faulted. It appears, then, that I have behaved precipitously. I shall have to recompense the Consortium."

"Nay, sir, do not so!" interrupted a voice suddenly. Turning in his seat, the mage beheld a youth seated at a nearby table.

"You addressed me, sirrah?"

"I did!" responded the youth, rising and advancing upon Zulkeh's table. "I made my voice known!"

"What else is new?" sneered Mustelid. "Know, good sir,"—this by way of an aside to the wizard—"that this inflammatory stripling is a well-known malcontent, whose irresponsible frothings have plagued fair Grotum since he left the domain of his prominent family's estates."

Favoring the lawyer with fleering nostrils and a gaze in which scorn and contempt commingled in his feverish eyes, the youth spoke again to the wizard.

"Know, citizen, that my name is Holdabrand, and that I hold the Banner of Justice aloft!"

"Such is commendable," spoke Zulkeh, "but what has it to do with me?"

"Forgive, citizen, my intrusion! But I could not help but overhear the poisoned words of this lackey of the moneyed interests! Thus do I hasten to counter his oily filth with the Right!"

The lawyer sputtered, but Zulkeh stilled him with a gesture. Turning back to the youth, he spoke. "Counter it, then, since you have made so bold your claim."

Holdabrand took a chair and spoke in an urgent voice.

"Citizen, you cannot help but have seen with your own eyes how in recent years the fair land of Grotum, once known the world over for its happy and contented people, its stern but fair-minded rulers, its harmony of classes and masses, its simple but righteous ways, its noble customs and traditions—"

"How many more clauses, d'you think?" sneered Mustelid. "Twenty? Thirty?"

The youth glared but drove on: "—has become overrun by this foreign monstrosity, this alien arachnid, this avaricious octopoid, this slimy parasite, this—"

"Forty? Fifty?"

"—this Consortium—whose lust for wealth has led it to corrupt and bring down the most ancient and pure mores of our land, whose insatiable rapacity has led it to plunder even the smallest of Grotum's treasures, to exploit even the feeblest of our resources—"

"Sixty? Seventy?"

"—whose lust for domination has led it to suborn all but a handful of Grotum's most venerable institutions, whose unbridled thirst—"

"Enough!" cried out the lawyer. "We're being claused to death! It's all rot—bilge and rot. 'Tis rather by dint of the Consortium's mighty efforts—motivated by self-interest, to be sure, but nonetheless admirable and beneficial—that these backward nations of Grotum stand fair to enter the world of modern industry and progress, to take their rightful place beside all other respected and puissant lands!"

Mustelid thrust his face at Zulkeh and continued in an earnest voice. "Do not allow the ravings of this romantic reactionary to sway your logical faculties, good sir. Fine for him—the scion of a great landowner—to preach airily of the joys of simple Groutch life, he who never labored from dawn to dusk in his father's fields, he whose dronelike existence is made possible by the unceasing toil of his father's serfs, he whose—"

"Damn you, knave!" shrilled the youth. "Have I not shortened my title, renounced certain excessive portions of my inheritance, urged liberalism in our dealings with the peons, even quarreled with my father—why, even in his own drawing room before guests? Have I not devoted my life to the uplifting of that selfsame squalid peasantry whose plight so suddenly grips your heart? Fraud! Impostor! These paeans to so-called progress spring dishonestly from your lips! Fear, greed, and envy—those are your true idols!"

The lawyer leaned back in his chair. "I am not abashed by your fantasies," he sneered. "I have no truck with dreaming fools who spout nonsense to the march of progress without accepting the necessary, if unfortunate, concomitants of that selfsame course of national betterment. And as for 'fear, greed, and envy,' certainly I do not deny them their rightful place in society's onward advance. Was it not the Honorable Judge Learned Hound himself who upheld, in the case of The Consortium vs. the Maimed and Injured Wretch, the legal and moral propriety of—and here I quote his exact and immortal phrase—'Fear, Greed, and Envy, the requisite economic waters upon whose lapping waves the Ship of State serenely sails'?"

"And well should you mention that corruption in human flesh!" shrilled Holdabrand. "Aye, indeed! That same Judge Learned Hound whose legalistic machinations made possible the devastation of Pryggia's stalwart yeomanry!"

"And glad I am," responded the lawyer with equal heat, "that you have raised this matter! Let us put it to this fine gentleman seated here, to see on which side of this dispute lies reason and the higher justice!"

Turning then to Zulkeh, Mustelid spoke in soft tones filled with great conviction. "Look you, sirrah, the case to which this insolent youth refers is one of the most luminous in the annals—not simply of Groutch jurisprudence—but of Law throughout the civilized world. The decision, jointly written by Judges Hound and Hand, has gained such repute that it is regularly assigned for study at the great School of Law at the University of Ozarae, that most prestigious of all academies. In this most complex and critical case, The Consortium vs. the Hayseed Malcontents, ere then murky and confused in the mind of gentility and plebeian alike, the two brilliant jurists charted a course unswayed by any interests save the upholding of Law, Reason, Truth and Justice.

"In essence, the case involved the claim of the Pryggian peasantry that, inasmuch as they had already given over one quarter of their crop to the noble landlords by way of rent, one quarter to the King by way of taxes, and one quarter to the Ecclesiarchs by way of tithe, they should not be required to cede the remaining one quarter to the Consortium by way of interest, as they would then surely starve. In their opinion, Judges Hound and Hand upheld the counterclaim of the Consortium, saying that—I will cite their very words—" A lightning-like flick through the pages. Then:

" 'The legal position of the Consortium is, strictly and constitutionally speaking, unassailable. And, though this will undoubtedly produce mass famine and a peasantry driven into a life of vagabondage, prostitution and cannibalism—a state of misery which, needless to say, we personally deplore and condemn, but also note is illegal and can thus serve as the basis for a profitable new prison industry—it is nonetheless crucial that the State not intrude in this matter, for such intervention would surely become but the first and irremediable step on what the great scholar Hayek Laebmauntsforscynneweëld has rightly called 'the Road to Serfdom.' "

Silence filled the room as the wizard considered the question at great length. Indeed, so long stretched his silence that the dwarf Shelyid made so bold as to tug at Holdabrand's sleeve.

"That's awful about the poor peasants," he said.

Holdabrand jerked his sleeve from the gnome's grasp. "I'll thank you to keep your hands off my shirt!" he snapped.

Shelyid drew back, hurt and abashed. But then, his normal timidity apparently overridden by some strong emotion, he tugged once again at Holdabrand's sleeve.

"How much land does your family own, anyway?" he asked the youth.

Holdabrand jerked his sleeve away again, brushing it off. "That's silk!" he snarled. "Not that I'd expect you to recognize it. And it's none of your business how much land we own. Besides, who keeps track of such details? Ask my father's accountants—not that they'd speak to a scrofulous gnome!"

"I'm sorry about the shirt," whispered Shelyid. "It's just—well, I was thinking about all those starving people and—well, since you must own an awful lot of land, maybe you could talk to your father about giving some of it—maybe only half of it—to those people, so they wouldn't have to eat each other and horrible stuff like that. I mean, you don't really probably need—"

"What is this—social philosophy from a subhuman?" sneered the youth.

"But—" The dwarf got no further, for at that very moment his master finally spoke.

"The question is, of course, transparent from the epistemological standpoint. The entire problem lies rather in the ontological ramifications of the case. But here as well, upon reflection, 'tis clear as a mountain stream that both Reason and the Higher Justice lies with the Consortium. For look you, if—"

Holdabrand lunged to his feet. "Then you too are a minion of darkness! I spit upon your Reason and your so-called Higher Justice! Soon enough will the true justice fall down upon your head!" And with that he charged out of the saloon, cuffing Shelyid from his path.

"Impudent youth!" oathed the wizard.

"What would you?" asked the lawyer, spreading his arms. " 'Tis the inevitable behavior of these pampered nobles when they are at last confronted with the dictates of progress."

Zulkeh nodded his agreement. "Oft have I noted the parlous state of the modern aristocracy. Most unfortunate. And now, sirrah," he rose to his feet, "I must be off and finish my business with the GGNESWC& Etc. I thank you for your assistance in clarifying these matters, and I bid you a good day."

The lawyer coughed discreetly. "Good sir, you have overlooked the matter of my fee."

"What fee?"

"Why, the fee for my professional services."

"Nonsense!" spoke the mage. "I merely asked you for some advice. No mention was made of any fee!"

"But my good sir," said the lawyer, smiling like a pool of oil, "have you forgotten so soon my exposition of the Honorable Judge Greased Hand's enunciation of the principle that ignorance of—"

"Are you a subsidiary of the Consortium?" interrupted Shelyid.

"Why, no," responded Mustelid, nonplussed both by the query and its source.

"Well, then," said Shelyid, "I don't see how you could collect anyway because didn't the Sheriff himself say he didn't care about anybody's problems except the Consortium? Didn't he, master? Didn't he?"

"Why yes," mused Zulkeh, "so he did." Then, to the lawyer: "Odd as it may seem, good sir, my stupid but loyal apprentice has for once stumbled upon a truth. I fear you must forget any receipt of payments for your services, if such they may be called."

The lawyer quivered in indignation, his long whiskers and pointed nose thrusting and twitching about.

"But it's your moral obligation!"

"Bah!" oathed Zulkeh. "What boots this sudden philosophical cowardice? Was it not you yourself who so recently demolished the arguments of that foolish stripling, demonstrating with sureness and clarity that no modern society worthy of the name can tolerate the intrusion of haphazard ethical gestures into the workings of its commercial order?" He shook his head sadly. "Fie upon this apostasy! Again, sir, I bid you good day!" And so speaking, the mage strode out of the room.

But Shelyid hung back, and timidly approached the vibrating chord of outrage that was the lawyer. "Maybe," he ventured, "you should get a job working for the Consortium. I'm sure they must hire a lot—a really, really lot—of lawyers," he piped cheerfully. "And sure, probably they wouldn't let you hang out in saloons, and you'd probably have to work in a big room somewhere filled with thousands of other lawyers, hunched over a desk, and sure, probably they'd make you work a lot of hours and you'd get all stooped over and such, but your posture's lousy anyway and besides, you probably wouldn't have time to worry about your health anyway because you'd be worrying all the time about getting fired, and all. But at least you wouldn't—"

He got no further, for Mustelid squeaked in fury and lunged from his chair, aiming a blow at the dwarf.

Shelyid ducked. "I was only trying to help," he whined, and scurried from the room.

Outside the hotel, he espied his master's figure striding toward the travel depot, and hastened to catch up. Once they arrived, Zulkeh thrust his pile of misshapen ingots at the ticket vendor. "Here is the gold to pay the fine you have levied upon me."

The ticket vendor glanced coldly at the pile of ungeometric gold bars.

"I regret to inform you, sir," stated the ticket vendor in a voice devoid of inflection or discernible tone, "that this is unacceptable. The GGNESWC& etc. can only accept payment in the recognized legal tender of the region, which, in this instance, is the Consortium Ducat."

"I see. And where may I acquire such specie?"

"You may exchange your gold for ducats at the Caravanserai Moneylenders Association, located two doors down the street."

Arriving at the specified location but a few moments later, Zulkeh and Shelyid passed through a door over which was suspended the traditional and time-honored emblem of the moneylender, an iron fist squeezing blood from a stone. Within, the wizard approached the teller's window and laid his eccentric bullion upon the counter.

"I should like to exchange these for Consortium Ducats."

"Certainly, sir," said the teller, flicking the idiosyncratic nuggets onto a scale with a splayed and callused thumb. "That comes to twenty-four hundred ducats." He laid six stacks of coins upon the counter. But just as Zulkeh reached out to pick up the coins, the tellers removed one of the stacks.

"What do you do there?" demanded the mage. "That is my money!"

"You are grotesquely in error," replied the cashier. "There is a sixteen point six seven percent service charge for processing gold which is not tendered in the form of the officially established Consortium Ingot."

Zulkeh opened his mouth to protest, reconsidered, and stormed out.

* * *

Later that night, as our heroes retired to their pallets, the dwarf Shelyid was heard to grumble, "I'll be glad to get out of this place, master."

"Well spoken, gnome. And now to sleep."

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