Waiting was the worst part.
Theodore’s wrists chafed in his shackles, fettered hand and foot to the dungeon floor. It was dark, humid, and there was nothing to distract him but the distant sound of cell doors slamming and the muffled shouts of prisoners. Every minute stretched on for an eternity. All he could do was worry, and wonder whether he had made the right choice. If Oboe’s trial proceeded as scheduled then his plan was worthless. He was counting on the Knight Detective having the integrity to postpone Oboe’s trial in favor of his own.
It was a relief to hear the door strain against its hinges. Conrad entered with a company of jailers.
“Hello,” Theodore said. His throat was parched, making it hard to speak. “Any luck finding the prince?”
Conrad’s glare told him there was not. The jailers moved to flank Theodore on either side.
“You are accused of breaking King’s Law,” Conrad said. “You will stand before a Justice of Laien for charges of grand treason, interference with royal investigation, conspiracy to usurp, and blackmail of citizen creatures. Rise and face the Mother’s Judgment.”
Theodore stood up and staggered under the weight of his chains. The jailers seized him. They unhooked from the floor but leashed to both of them. Conrad marched them out of the dungeons and into the streets, in plain view for anyone to see. Theodore clattered with every step as they passed under the shadow of the ancient courthouse. Theodore gazed up at its towering ramparts and parapets with an awe reserved for the guilty. The sight brought back memories of his elementary history lessons.
Before there was a King of Laien, before the first house was built, there was the courthouse. During the war against the Devil King, the human tribes banded together to construct a fortress to endure the coming of the ghast hordes. Stone was quarried from the Whirlwood to erect massive walls, which were used to shelter civilians from the battle.
When the hero Laien defeated the Devil King, with the aid of the fairy queen and the rebel ghasts, there came a need to negotiate the peace treaties. The fortress was converted into court of law so that all creatures might co-exist. Human refugees assembled homesteads near the court until a city took shape.
Many chambers of the court were bricked up, annexed, or renovated, but what remained was still a structure meant to endure the end of the world. It was a monument to order and the foundation of Theodore’s country. His stomach curled into knots. It was an institution he admired. Today was the first time he had ever crossed into its hallowed halls, and it was a day he meant to proclaim himself its enemy.
The doors opened. Theodore was led down into Arbitration Pit number two. Knight Bailiffs stood at the cardinal exits, and jurors watched from a row of balconies above. The Justice stood at the front. A dignified elder woman in two toned black and white robes. She wielded hooped rods of silver and iron, one in each hand. It all felt so surreal to Theodore. It was not until he noticed Oboe that he felt awake.
“Theo?!” She descended the judgment bench, draped in iron chains twice the size of Theodore’s. “You’re locked up!! What’s going on?! Why are you here??”
“You don’t need to worry any longer,” Conrad said. “We have this man under control.”
Theodore smiled, and was wrenched towards the judgment bench. Oboe resisted as Knight Bailiffs tried to pull her away.
“I told them I did it! I turned Percy into a bird! They’re gonna punish me like they’re supposed to! You shouldn’t be here! You’re not supposed to be in trouble!”
The Justice banged her rods. “The fairy will be silent in the court! She has been dismissed!”
“No! I’m mad!!” Oboe yelled back. “Theo!! Tell me what’s going on!”
“I thought I could get away with it,” Theodore said, hoping to sound villainous. “Looks like you and your family will be okay after all.”
“What??” She scrunched her face, confused. “Theo!! What are you talking about?!”
The Justice rose from her seat. “Bailiffs!”
Oboe’s chains hummed with magic. A painful spark surged through the iron and made her cry out. “No!” She said, and fought to take a few halting steps before slumping to the floor. Theodore watched as the Bailiffs dragged her away, hoping that it would be the last time they would hurt her.
The Justice shook her head at the scene. “The Ranger Deputy will now present himself to the court.”
Theodore took one shaky step after another to climb into the judgment bench. All eyes were on him. It was in that moment he faltered. He knew what he needed to do and he knew that it meant his death. There was no other choice but he was still afraid. There was still so much more he wanted out of life, so much he wanted to learn.
He thought of Oboe again. That was enough. He took one last deep, ragged breath and felt his fear harden into stone cold certainty.