“May it please the court, my client wishes case to be settled by wager of battle.”
Bram Bellden, serjeant-at-law, stood quite as judge and prosecutor reacted; answering their questions and countering their arguments with plain and level speech. Smith stood with his head on his chest, a scrawny figure besides his attorney.
Bellden was not concerned about his opposite number. The attorney general had fought a few judicial duels in his youth, but had since retired from the more strenuous judicial arts and given himself over to corpulence. Either he would have to find another in his office to take the field, or call on a sheriff or High Sheriff to represent the government in the case. The precedence in Federal cases was less clear, though. After the major legalities and terms of weapons and location had been smoothed out and the wager by battle agreed to, the Federal prosecutor stepped forward to address the court.
“Representing the United States government in this manner will be Shiro Takenata, United States Marshal.”
The Marshal of the Court, acting as bailiff, explained the rules one final time. Takanata had appeared in a short-waisted, sleeveless gi, and held the long slender ell of wood as he would a bokken. Bellden wore a padded vest, thigh-pads and armored cup, and leaned on his own ell like a cane, sizing up his opponent even as they both recited the traditional oath. Though a head taller than the Marshal and broader at the shoulders, the lawyer doubted there was two ounces of fat on the G-Man’s body, and the death’s-head tattoo on one bicep spoke of a history with the Marine Raiders unit.
The bailiff retreated, and the combatants settled into their first positions: Takanata, following the dictates of Kendo, held the length of wood low and in front of him, the leading edge raised toward Bellden’s chest. The serjeant-at-law himself presented only his right side to his opponent, his wooden rod raised above his head in a simple baritsu stance.
Takanata moved first, a simple forward strike and shout that roused birds ready to sing at the dawn. Bellden shuffled backwards and brought his rod down, aiming for a blow at the briefly unprotected neck…
“Serjeant-at-law?” Smith asked.
“An old order from England, revived in practice in America,” the attorney explained. “Serjeant, like esquire, was a title for gentlemen. The serjeants-at-law were higher-ranked than other attorneys, allowed to plead in any court, but also with additional responsibilities—for example, they had to represent anyone who asked, and could not refuse a case simply because the claimant could not pay. In modern usage, admittance is generally restricted to members of the bar with special practice in judicial combat.”
“Sounds dangerous.” Smith opined.
“It is.” The attorney said. Then he smiled, the scars on his face wrinkling.
Brendell’s final blow fell across the marshal’s arms, forcing the ex-marine’s numb hands to drop the weapon. Dark bruises striped Takanata’s bare arms and legs, and his gi hung in tatters in places where the tip of Brendall’s rod had ripped through the cloth. Brendell himself was hardly in any better shape; blood welled from the corner of Bellden’s left eye and from his broken nose, and he winced in the bright afternoon sunlight. Still, he held his weapon up, tapping the Marshall’s chin.
Judge and bailiff leaned forward. It would be a mistrial to intervene before the wager ended, and both combatants had been clear of the risks, but Bendell knew judges who had stopped the fight before to keep someone from being killed or crippled.
Takanata stared at Bendall with tired eyes, sucking wind, arms dangling loosely in front of him, wavering as if he could barely stand. Bendall felt he could poke him in the chest and knock him over, but this wasn’t a fight to see who was the first to bleed, or the first to fall. Stiffly, the serjeant-at-law took a swinger’s stance, ready to lay another blow. Takanata shivered and spat out something white, maybe a tooth, jaw working.
“Craven.” Croaked the marshal. Then louder and directed towards the judge. “Craven!”
Bendall lowered his ell and leaned heavily on it; the EMTs burst the cordon and Takanata collapsed ungracefully into their arms. The judge rose from his seat, and addressed the court to rule in favor of Smith.