“I watched that man as he chopped a woman down.
“The woodsman had an axe. The muscles in his back bunched on the backswing before uncoiling in explosive motion, sending the axe whipping through a controlled arc to smash against the trunk of the tree. I stood back to avoid the explosion of woodchips.
“I readily admit there was nothing unusual about this. I myself had on occasion and despite my station taken up arms to do battle against the forest, so you see I was ill prepared for what I saw. Frankly, it took me some small time to sort it out...
“…because the tree was bleeding.”
The witness pauses here a moment, pouring wine from the decanter provided. He takes a sip then continues.
“I can see your surprise, sirs. Readily do I admit such labor on my part was entirely unnecessary, being as I am a gentleman of means and having servants for the mundane. I was made to chop at wood by my father, the Elder Lord of Cohen. He considered it character building. But where was I?
“Yes, but it looked like sap at first, though somehow my mind knew the difference. Blood, I say, it was blood oozing from the woody-white meat of the tree. I backed up a step, then two.
“Then the woodsman stopped to wipe his brow before looking at me and saying, with this odd, toothless smile, “Right strange sap boss, right strange." The wretch mistook my look of horror as a permission of sorts, for he once again hefted his axe and set his stance – and I watched in horror, somehow powerless to stop him - and started chopping away once more.
“I took a brief step, intent on stopping this horror, but my mind rebelled, unprepared to allow me to make a fool of myself over something so obviously wrong. The tree was not bleeding, could not possibly bleed! I must be seeing something different my fellows could not; perhaps the light played tricks with my eyes, or perhaps the axe had slipped and cut its owner and he has yet to notice.
“And then I knew I had gone insane… mad… utterly and damnably batty. I swear to you, good sir, I swear I saw a woman, a beauty she was, with thick hair of autumn red that flowed over her body, her naked body, covering her and protecting her virginal modesty. The woman stood there, beseeching me! She held her arms before her and on her lips was a plaintive, unspoken cry! Lord help me, it was a woman in distress, I can see her distress - I can see it even now – and how can I, as a righteous man, ignore that? The woodsman, that damnable man with his smile of rotten teeth, he could – he ignored her completely!
“For that animal hauled back on his axe again, swung it, and chopped off that poor woman’s leg.
“So gentlemen, you see, yes? My actions were entirely honorable: I took that man’s axe and cut him down in turn.
“An eye for an eye.”
At this point, the Lord Inquisitor begins to question the witness but is interrupted.
“No, I know not where the woman went. I do not see why you think it important. She could not have wandered far. The poor dear had but one leg.”
Transcript: Trial of Lord Novar Cohen
State v Cohen family, Murder Most Foul