Trial By Jury
Rori King’s POV
Arrowhead Pack House
My babies were away for thirty-six hours now, and the hole in my heart was almost painful.
New Year’s Day was behind us, and there was less than an hour until the trial started at noon on the second. All of the Alphas were here, but only Sawyer brought his mate along. It was a wise thing, and I understood why. The split in the Council was deep, emotions would be high, and there was the possibility of war. Sawyer was my lawyer, so Ashley had to serve on the Jury of Alphas in his stead. I was taking no chances; I’d already sent the humans and my children away into hiding. It didn’t matter what they threatened; none of us could tell them anything. I was sending Mykayla and all other Pack members not involved in security or trial support downstairs. They would be locked in the Safe Room in the Pack House basement until it was over, watching the proceedings on television.
Beta Teri was supervising the staff as we served lunch in the main dining hall, while Ron and Vic were monitoring internal and external security. A trial like this was a headache; all the Alphas, their Betas, and Warriors, all poking around with the potential to cause trouble. We would be keeping our tunnels secret, meaning we all had to travel outside between buildings and keep our security measures discreet. We had augmented our security posture with men and women from our allied Packs. About half of them were hidden deep within our land, heavily armed and ready to respond if war broke out, but too far away to be sensed by those at the lake.
I walked back into the dining hall from the kitchens after comforting one of my Omegas. One of the Bitterroot warriors tried to cop a feel as she was filling glasses. In most Packs that might get your hand slapped, but she and many other Omegas here had come out of slavery and abuse. She stood frozen, tears streaming down her face as his hand traveled up her thigh. Thank Luna, one of the Warriors was watching, and he pulled her away. He handed her off to another Omega, who took her out of view. I sent her to the safe room, excusing her from further duties. Looking around, I spotted Alpha Richard Long at a table. I walked to the table the offending warrior was at, and he and the other men stood at my approach. I shifted my nails, grabbing his testicles through his jeans as his eyes widened in shock. I dragged him over a few tables and shoved him to the floor at his Alpha’s feet. “My Pack members are not sexual playthings for your males,” I said with a growl. The room had gone quiet as Alpha Richard stood up in shock. “You are all warned. Treat the women here with respect, or I will rip your nuts off and go ice fishing with them.”
The man looked up at his Alpha in shock and embarrassment, then to me as he got to his knees. “My apologies, Alpha.” He would heal quickly, but the blood staining his jeans satisfied my wolf’s desire for punishment.
“Alpha Long, it would be best if you kept this man away from me, and my females during your visit.” He nodded, linking to him before the man scrambled to his feet and left the room. I smiled like a good hostess as I looked around the room. “Everyone, enjoy your lunch and the hospitality of the Arrowhead Pack.”
People went back to eating as I walked away, satisfied no one was dying quite yet. I let out a breath as Chase walked up behind me, his hands coming around from behind and resting on my lower stomach. “How are you holding out,” he asked.
“I’m hoping I don’t kill anyone important today,” I replied as I looked around. The seating assignments had mixed allies and foes together, making for a quiet lunch. He escorted me back to our table, where my untouched sandwich awaited. The nervousness about the trial was like a rock in my belly, and I had to force myself to eat. “Even bacon doesn’t taste good today,” I said as I looked at my Wolfy-style BLT. Two big slices of marble rye, lightly toasted, covered with two inches of maple-smoked bacon, one tomato, one piece of lettuce, and mayo.
“It’s going to be fine,” he said as he ran his hand over my thigh. I was wearing a knee-length dress with thigh-highs, and I sent him an image of me pulling them on as we ate. The bond swelled with desire, so much that he had to stop eating to adjust himself. “My family and yours will back you no matter what happens, and you know that. We need to shock them into changing their worldview, or we’re going to have to go on without them.”
“They could try to kill us and take our Pack,” I said.
”They could try. Entrenched Alphas are the last to change. This trial is our chance to make our case directly to their Pack members, most of whom know nothing about what is happening. Even their Alphas can’t keep them from hearing about you. Be the woman and the Alpha I know you can be today, and we will win.”
“I hope so.” I finished my meal and used the restroom, not willing to interrupt proceedings because of my bladder.
The servers were clearing plates as I walked in and sat down with my mate. Chairman Jack Coffey stood; the room immediately hushed in respect. “The trial will begin in ten minutes. Take your places.” The doors to the trial room opened, and the spectators started to move in to get the good seats. Sawyer came to sit with us; as the defendants, we would be called forward after everyone else was seated. I did notice the Betas around us, making sure we didn’t run.
As if we’d run from our own Pack.
We walked in to the defense table, the room silent, and the cameras rolling. The Council sat on a raised table, as Chairman Coffey was the Judge for the trial. Councilmen Oscar Millner and Nathan Kirk were to his left, and Councilmen Yakov Baronsky and Jurgen Nemmers on the other. The other Council members were allowed to ask questions after the Prosecution or Defense was done with a line of questioning.
To each side, the Alphas were seated at tables in order of seniority. They were the Jury, and a majority vote would result in a conviction. The left side was our allies; Alpha Martin Smith, Luna Ashley Nygaard, Alpha Carson Nygaard, and Luna Coral Sexson. To the right were Alphas John Coffey, Richard Long, Steven March, Alan Robertson, and Paxton Blackledge. Our Pack wasn’t on the Jury, nor was the Monongahela Pack. Since Alpha Matthew Kirk had filed the charges, he was responsible for proving them. All of the tables had microphones in front of them, and off to the side, an engineer and producer were managing the feed.
I sat at the defense table, Sawyer on my right in the center aisle, and Chase to my left as I was the dominant Alpha. Chairman Coffey banged his gavel. “The trial of Alphas Rori and Chase Nygaard is called to order. The Prosecution will read the charges.”
Alpha Kirk stood and nodded to the council. “Count One, that Alphas Chase Nygaard and Rori King unintentionally revealed the secret of our nature to a human, Frank Grimes. Count two, the Alphas failed to follow a direct order by the Council Chairman to separate from humans, which led to the reveal.”
The Chairman looked at us as we stood. “How do the defendants plead?”
“Guilty,” I said in a clear voice. There were gasps in the audience, quickly silenced by the gavel. “It happened, and we won’t apologize or show regret over it.”
“Is there a plea deal in place,” the Chairman asked as he looked over at Alpha Kirk.
“No, Mr. Chairman,” Alpha Kirk said. “I attempted to conduct negotiations with the Defense, and they refused to entertain my offers.” He looked as shocked as anyone.
“Alphas Rori and Chase, you realize the charges you plead guilty to are subject to penalties up to and including execution?”
“We do, Mr. Chaiman,” I said.
“Very well, I have entered guilty pleas into the record, and we will proceed to the sentencing phase.”
“Mr. Chairman, if I may suggest a change from normal procedures. Allow me time to explain the reasoning for my actions and to answer questions about them, as those reasons will be key to arriving at the appropriate sentence.”
He looked at me, then at Alpha Kirk. “Any objections, Alpha?”
“No sir, provided the Prosecution is allowed time and latitude to question them, and other witnesses that may be called.”
“Then the Council has no objections. The floor is yours to make your statement, then we will entertain questions.” He sat back, pen in hand as he got ready to take notes.
This was it, my chance to make my case directly to the Werewolf race. “As you know, my upbringing was not normal for a werewolf. I left on a roadside, twenty miles from where I now sit after the Arrowhead Pack was attacked and wiped out. The bodies of my Pack mates are buried five hundred yards from where you sit.” I took a breath. “I survived only because of the sacrifice of a brave wolf, who I named my first daughter after. Discovered and later adopted by a human family, I grew up human. When my wolf came forward, it wasn’t pretty. We didn’t understand each other, and violent outbursts occurred when she got loose. I spent months in mental institutions and clouded my mind for years with psychotropic drugs so I could keep her down.”
I looked over at Alpha Coral. “As if the history of my Pack wasn’t enough, my dealings with other Packs and the Council were frightening. Multiple abduction attempts occurred while I was with my mother and my Club, attempts in which friends were injured or threatened. I ended up in a psychiatric hospital in Seattle, where I met my mate Chase, who was an intern. When I was released, I still didn’t know who and what I was. I didn’t know that the chase that almost killed me in Seattle was meant to bring me into the fold.”
I could see the emotions of the Alphas, who knew of my story, but not from my perspective. “My parents and the Club hid me in a cabin; we were on a hike when a bear attacked us. I shifted, driving the bear away from my family, but at a cost. I was injured badly by her claws, and Chase was called to help. He brought his Pack doctors, and they stitched me up. My mother and stepfather saw me change, but they weren’t afraid of me; they knew me and loved me for whatever I was. I would never hurt them, and they would never hurt me or tell my secret.”
Chase picked up the story. “My father, the Alpha of the Cascade Pack, reacted the way you would expect him to. He was raised with the laws of the old days when werewolves and humans rarely mixed. He demanded that Rori’s parents be killed, when they had done nothing to deserve it, and he wanted my mate punished for rules she didn’t know existed. Her wolf was completely detached from her human side; facing the bear was the first time they had coexisted in her mind. She was my mate, and I wasn’t going to see her hurt. We mated and claimed her birthright as Alpha of a reborn Arrowhead Pack.”
“That was not without its struggles,” I said. “Alpha Coral represented us with the Council while I recovered from the bear attack. Instead of being happy that I survived, the Council arrested my Beta and tried to strong-arm us into submission. We had to fight for our land and our Pack, against a corrupt Council and their allies, who wanted power and money.”
“Surely you can’t blame this Council for the sins of those who have been removed and punished for what they did,” Councilman Baronsky asked.
“I do not blame the current Council, sir. I give this background to explain my actions. The majority of my interactions with the Werewolf Council and the Alphas have been negative; unlike many of you, I don’t assume them to be good or acting in my interests. My mate understands more of our culture, but his faith in government has been shaken by what he has seen and endured.”
“Still, your Pack joined the Council, and you vowed to follow our laws,” Councilman Kirk said. “You cannot pick and choose which laws you will follow and which you ignore. We cannot have anarchy,” he said smugly.
“We cannot have idiocy either,” I replied. There was an outcry, both from in front and the gallery behind me, as what I said registered.
Councilman Millner half stood, pointing his finger at me. “You will RESPECT this Council and its decisions,” he said as he shook in outrage.
I waited until he sat down, refusing to let him bait me into losing my cool. “I do not mean disrespect, Councilman. My argument is a logical one, informed by my upbringing which was quite different than yours. My father was a Captain in the Minnesota State Patrol; his wife was an Emergency Room nurse. They saw humanity at its worst and its best; they raised me to understand right and wrong from the human perspective. It is THIS world that you must understand and live in, because it is no longer possible to live apart from it. The rules you lived by when you ruled as Alpha will not continue to work now,” I said evenly.
“Explain,” Chairman Coffey said.
“If I may,” Chase said. “Let us use the example of DEA Director Frank Grimes, and the failure to immediately kill him for which we are here now. Frank Grimes has been nothing but honest and forthright in his dealings with us. In Orlando, he worked with me to defuse a costly war between gangs that would have harmed our friends. Frank kept my identity secret as he used my information to take down the Sons of Tezcatlipoca, a violent gang of jaguar shifters and humans, even at the cost of his job. As a guest at my home, he fought to protect my family and was injured. The exposure came in the heat of battle, yet he never exposed us to the law enforcement that arrived. He trusted me and I trusted him.”
“He never should have been there in the first place,” Alpha Kirk said. “You risk too much when you bring humans into your home. Exposure is inevitable with time,” he said smugly.
“I fully agree with your last statement, Alpha,” I said. “Exposure IS inevitable. Think about the world we have now. Humans have aircraft, satellites, trail cameras, night vision cameras, drones, facial recognition technology, computers, and DNA testing. There is NO place in the world for werewolves to hide safely from the world around them, nor should we want to. We can live among them, in harmony and for mutual benefit, provided we don’t run afoul of THEIR laws. Humans will react badly to what they don’t understand if they consider it a threat.”
I let Chase continue. “So, we have our loyal friend Frank who has done nothing to deserve death, except he saw a person change. Under the law, we should have killed him immediately, especially since the Chairman has already warned us that no more Trusted Agents would be allowed.” The Council nodded. “911 had already been called, and Agent Grimes had identified himself. He was a guest in my home, which by tradition meant he was under my protection. If I kill him, there’s no way to hide it. Police arrived a short time later, and we could not even hide the evidence of the ones that shifted to protect us. Imagine the shit storm that would descend on us if we were suspected of gunning down a DEA Director.”
I looked at the Council as I sat forward. “We had very little time to decide, and we made the decision we could live with. Frank Grimes isn’t our enemy. He’s an asset to my Pack, and to the Council.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Councilman Nemmers said. “The last time he was with us, he nearly died.”
“And his werewolf friends saved his life. Frank understands your fear of humans and doesn’t hold the actions of one dead man against the rest of us.” I paused for a second. “Now we have an ally with contacts high in Government, instead of a missing man who would be the subject of an intense investigation. The deal we made because of Frank stopped our secrets from coming out. How many of you have questionable business dealings, insurance fraud, identity theft, or other crimes?” I looked at Alpha Long, knowing the Bitterroot Pack’s history with humans. “What happens if your existence comes out the wrong way, and people start questioning the disappearances of women in the area? The past Alphas would kidnap and impregnate women, then kill them and bury them in the woods. Have none of you watched CSI, or any true-crime TV shows? How long would you withstand scrutiny if the FBI shows up with cadaver dogs, ground-penetrating radar, and satellite surveys?”
“They wouldn’t DARE,” he said.
“You have hundreds of bodies and no explanations,” I told him. “By the time they are done with you, all of you will be in prison. Or you fight, and they kill you. We cannot allow our traditions to get in the way of our survival.”
“So you would what? Throw our lives open to them?”
“If done in the right way, I would consider it. It is better to expose ourselves in a planned way than to be exposed in a bad way. When it happens, we will need our human friends to stand with us and vouch for us. I have hundreds of them, a select few who are Trusted Agents and already know my secret. And do you know what?” I looked back at the room before turning to the Council. “Four of those women knew what I was before I did. They didn’t expose me or take advantage of me; they protected and helped me. They showed more loyalty to me than I’ve seen from my kind. Yet with all they have proven, I sent them away while you are here.”
“Your humans are not here?” The Chairman looked shocked.
“Of course not. I sent my parents and my human friends into hiding. I told them I didn’t want to know where they went, and they were not to contact me. I sent more than them, though.” I looked at each of the Council members. “I sent my CHILDREN with them. In a sad state of affairs, I trust humans with my babies more than werewolves. ”
“Your children are not in danger from us,” the Chairman said dismissively.
I laughed. “My dead Pack members would argue that. So would the dead Alpha and his Betas who wanted to kidnap and rape me when I was sixteen. Can’t you understand my hesitancy to trust you knowing my past? I didn’t know how this trial would go, and I still don’t. If I die, the last thing I would allow is for my children to be taken by men with power and money on their minds. Kill me, and the Blessed line will end.”
“Your daughter is still alive,” Millner said.
“My daughter will never see or mate another werewolf,” I promised. “More than that, do you remember the Council meeting where you voted to arrest me and imprisoned my Beta? Do you remember what I threatened that day?”
Councilman Baronsky nodded. “A video and documentation of what we are, and who we are, including names and locations. A dangerous gambit, but one you played well.”
“It wasn’t a gambit. The video and documentation is out there, and it’s double-blind. I don’t know who has it, and the person who has it doesn’t know what it is. Nothing has changed; if I die, it goes to the press, and Luna help you all then.”
Councilman Millner shot to his feet, his chair skidding into the wall behind him. “YOU DARE THREATEN US?”
“I’m informing you,” I said evenly. “It’s my little insurance policy of Mutual Assured Destruction.”
There was an outcry in the room, and the Chairman had to gavel the proceedings back to order. “The audience is cautioned to remain quiet and respectful. Alphas, command your members.” He waited for them to give the orders over the Pack links. “I have a question, Alpha King. I understand you do not like the rules as they are now, but surely you want some limits on human interaction and knowledge? As you say, the more people know, the more inevitable our exposure is.”
“Zero tolerance laws don’t work because they are zero intelligence; there is no allowance for circumstance, character or relationship. Human membership should be like we treat applicants to our Pack; we evaluate how they would fit in and contribute to the overall good. Frank is a perfect example, and there are others I would add without hesitation if I could.”
“I can’t believe what I’ve just heard,” Alpha Kirk said. “To summarize: our laws are stupid, I openly defied you and will do so again, and if you do what the law requires, I’ll ensure you’re all killed in return. Killing her is too easy; she should be imprisoned and forced to reproduce, with the children adopted out to the Packs to help with our population. At least then, we would get the benefit of the blessing, without the risk this reckless she-wolf brings.”
My look could have flash-frozen water at fifty feet. I slowly stood, my claws extending and denting the heavy oak table as I fought to restrain the change. “Our Goddess Luna would never allow that, nor would I,” I said quietly.
“Oh, so now you speak for the Goddess? Do you hand out her blessings and curses now,” he continued.
“Alpha Kirk, how many females of breeding age are in your Pack?”
“Forty-two,” he said proudly.
“And how many children under eighteen are in your Pack?”
“Two,” he said.
“Two.” I shook my head, looking at him. “And neither of them are yours; in fact, you and your mate have not produced an heir in thirty years of mated life.”
His face reddened at the implication. “It is not uncommon for us, we all know how difficult it is to get pregnant as werewolves.”
“So you would agree that pregnancy is a blessing from Luna?”
“Of course,” he said.
I just smirked. “My Pack has fewer females than you, yet we have four children right now. Add in that I am pregnant, no shock there, but so are three other females in my Pack.” I linked with Coral, Sawyer and Michael, making sure it was all right. “My aunt, Luna Margaret, is pregnant. So is Ashley Nygaard. Alpha Coral has a young baby at home. Add in the members of our Pack who are finding themselves pregnant, and we have a real baby boom coming. So yes, Alpha Kirk, children ARE a blessing from Luna, and Luna is blessing those who are on my side of this.”