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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


73. [Plate 21]
The Lions of the Law

The lions of the law, noble as the day and impartial as the dawn, make short shrift of the innocent. They snatch them up, and pluck their feathers, and gobble them down like so many juicy little ortolans.

Which is only right. Because what kind of a moron manages to wind up in court when he's not even guilty? Far better that such idiots be eliminated from the gene pool before they can procreate and fill the world with more fools like themselves.

If lions could speak, Wittgenstein tells us, we would not be able to understand them. So it is with the lions of the law. With their ab initios and in esses and in extensos, they have rendered themselves completely incomprehensible to the innocent. "But we didn't do anything wrong!" the poor saps cry. "If you'd only listen to our side of it!"


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"Ignorantia juris neminem excusat," replies a lion, and holds out a paw. Another lion hands him the mustard jar. "Ius naturale." A third hands him the knife.

No sane man would want to find himself in the clutches of the lions of the law. Still, you have to admire their style. They've got gravitas. They've got class. The blood on their muzzles is easily wiped away with a clean lace handkerchief.


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This is the 73rd of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

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