“What’s to decide?” the tiger grumbled. “They’re bandits and murderers. They’ve earned their lot.”

The bigger, blue-eyed white tiger beside him sighed. “Verantine enjoins us to be merciful where we can, Marquis.”

Marquis Aramon di Talai considered the man trembling before them, and shook his head. “He also teaches us that ignorance of the consequences of our deeds does not absolve us of those consequences, does he not, Ser?”

Ser Nicolai di Casson nodded, slowly and reluctantly.

The Marquis understood the man’s hesitation – he was a good man, Ser Nicolai, who saw before him someone who was not evil, but had strayed. But that straying had been into a life of misdeeds. “He brought this lot to one of my villages, Ser. He let the bandits in, and everyone within was put to the sword. Even if he didn’t raise a blade himself, for conspiracy in such deeds, the law claims one forfeit. If you would extend mercy, let it be the mercy of a sharp blade instead of the hangman’s noose,” he urged.

He urged – but he could not command. This endeavour had crossed several marches to come to this point, and even had it been entirely on his own territory, he could not command a Right Hand of the Just on that Hand’s pledged duty.

Moments passed. The wind tugged at Marquis Aramon’s furs, and made Ser Nicolai’s sword-and-scales cloak flutter. The man in chains continued mouthing prayers, as he had done for quite some time now. The words cut off, and he trembled hard enough to rattle the chains, when Ser Nicolai drew his sword from its scabbard.

But still Nicolai did not strike.

“Ilia di Ramero,” he said, so softly that even the Marquis, standing right beside him, strained to hear. “Do you forsake the deeds of your past?”

“Great Father, yes,” the chained tiger whimpered. “I didn’t want… didn’t know…”

“Lower your head,” Nicolai commanded, and Ilia obeyed.

The sword swept down, whistling, and came to a halt just short of the man’s neck, steel parting fur.

“From this moment,” the Hand declared, “your life is done. You have no station, own no property. All that may have been owed you is null and void. You shall live only by the charity and mercy of others, such as your former companions did not show.” The blade lifted slightly, turned, the point of it pressing under the captive’s chin and lifting it up. “Forty-eight people died as a direct result of your actions. When forty-eight people swear by the Chain that you have changed their lives for the better, then you may call yourself a man once more, and begin your life anew. Until then, you are as one condemned, whose sentence merely has not yet been carried out.”

The Hand lifted his sword away, reversed it, and slid the point into the scabbard. “By all that you hold dear, do not disappoint the Father of us all,” he commanded, and let the sword sink home.

“You’re a better man than I,” the Marquis sighed, and beckoned to the jailer.

Nicolai shook his head, watching impassively as the man’s chains were undone. “Too many have died by my hand,” he said. “I cannot refuse this chance to spare a life instead.”