Marie sat on the floor and looked in horror at the transfixed audience staring blankly at Pook. He smirked across at her. Suddenly there was a loud banging from the dias between them.
“Order! Order!” shouted the Adjudicator. “This is unnatural order!”
The Osienne looked at Pook and pointed his gavel at him.
“This is a realm of the intellect,” the Adjudicator said. “You have no right to use glamour here. Magic has no dominion.”
“No dominion! No dominion!” parroted the audience, springing back to animation. Marie pulled herself to her feet, propelled by a surge of relief.
“Since you show ignorance of the rules of Parliament I shall explain,” said the Adjudicator. “The applicants shall debate a topic from the floor. The first one to lose three debates is the defeated and suffers the judgement of Parliament. The other is victorious and gains the boon we have to offer. You, sir, have forfeited the first debate by your skullduggery. Commence!”
Marie tried not to grin. Pook turned away as a sour look formed on his face.
“What is truth?” shouted a Oisienne to hoots of approval and the Adjudicator indicated Pook with his gavel. Pook turned back then and the smirk had returned to his face.
“Well truth is of course very closely linked to honesty and I shall enjoy hearing all about that from Mme Jennings, who is an expert in the topic.”
Marie felt herself flush and caught a glimpse of her husband. Pook continued.
“But in the end, truth is not as simple as many think. Indeed, one might argue that there are as many truths as there are mouths to feed as each must speak his own truth, which will differ one from the other. Further, one may very well argue that there are as many truths as meals to feed those mouths, for which man, woman or child keeps the same counsel from hour to hour. I posit then that truth is not one thing, but a multitude multiplying as the sum of human, and even other, opinion swells through time. You may as well hold a drop of water in your hand and ask – is this the ocean?”
There was a smatter of applause and the Adjudicator indicated Marie.
“Truth is…” she started, “truth is words that describe what is real. The rest is opinion.”
Her head lowered a touch.
There was more applause to this. The Adjudicator nodded to the audience.
“She wins!” cooed a voice. The call was taken up by the others.
“She wins! She wins!” chorused the room. The Adjudicator silenced it with his gavel and indicated to the floor.
“You said truth describes what is real,” chirruped a voice. “What is real?”
“I think I have the measure of you now,” he said to the room. “I believe I can judge what passes for intellectual skill in these most remarkable rooms. Let me proffer then that the real is at once tangible and ephemeral. At once prosaic and poetic. At once solid and gaseous. For if we ask one person what they saw on any given day, at any given moment we can find a precise and determined account of the events that had unfolded. If we then were to ask another one, also present, to describe the self same events, we will get another certain account. And yet, if we were to compare the two, we may find ourselves surprised to see discrepancies twixt the two. We may wonder then at how we might divine what has truly occurred. We may ask a third for an opinion, and find more facts are confirmed whilst yet others agreed on are uncertain. And so on, and so on. It is, I believe then, a most scientific approach that we must take in order to be certain of the real. We must question each one, in a structured manner, on any event, and concern ourselves only with that which the majority can agree on. In this manner, must we proceed to be certain and definite on what has really occurred. The rest then is conjecture or deception.”
At the last word Pook smiled over at Marie. The room fell silent as they waited her response.
“Reality is what happens whether you believe in it or not,” she said.
The silence continued for a beat and then a shrill voice cried out.
“She wins! She wins!” it said, and the chant was picked up by the room. The Adjudicator banged his gavel.
“Let me confirm the good opinion of this Parliament,” he said. “Those who agree on the acceptance of Mme Jennings’ victory say ‘aye’.”
The room was filled by squawking and screeching. The Adjudicator banged his gavel. Pook was starting to look nervous. One Oisienne holding a small box had climbed on the stage from behind the dias.
“Those who dissent say ‘nay’,” said the Adjudicator.
“Nay,” said a voice from the back. Everyone turned round and Marie looked and saw Clackprattle.
“Then,” said the Adjudicator, “Mme Jennings receives the artefact.”
The Oisienne pressed the small wooden box into Marie’s hand. There was applause from the floor.
“And M Pook receives the judgement.”
Suddenly the room seemed full of sharp beaks and talons. Heads tilted and twisted, unblinking eyes staring coldly at Pook.
“Judgement!” shrieked one Oisienne, a chanting joined by the others as they pressed toward Pook. Sir John pushed towards Marie and gestured to her to join him. She heard screams and screeching from where Clackprattle was standing. The fat man was placing his lethal hand on Oisienne and also pressing toward Pook. Sir John grabbed hold of Marie’s hand as they met up in the melee.
“Well done!” said Sir John, “I rather suggest we flee.”
Marie didn’t argue.