Chapter Eighteen: Wherein I find out what fate the elves intend for me.
It was well into the morning before I was given a clue as to what was going on. Three new elven men arrived outside the bars of my cell. I mean that they were new because I hadn’t seen them before, not that they were new because they were newly born. In fact, they were fully grown though their age was indeterminate, all looking quite youthful. One had long grey hair while the other two sported long blond locks. It was the grey-haired elf who spoke to me.
“You are to be tried for the kidnapping of a princess of the elven people,” he said.
“This is a big mistake,” said I. “I had nothing to do with any kidnapping. Quite the contrary. I was helping her return to her home.”
“All the important details will come out in the trial,” he replied. “Our only purpose at this moment is to introduce ourselves. I am King Jholhard and I will act as your judge.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” I sighed. “I know that I will be treated fairly by Jholiera’s father.”
“This is Iidreiion, Jholiera’s betrothed, who will act as the prosecutor.”
I didn’t know what to say to this fellow. I looked into his face and didn’t see any obvious malice. Maybe he would simply present the facts as known. I certainly hoped he was dedicated to the truth and not to seeking out a conviction at any cost as is so often the case in human societies.
“And this is Iidreiior and he will act as your defense counsel.”
“I am very pleased to meet…” I stopped and looked from my defense counselor to the prosecutor, back to my defense counselor, back to the prosecutor, back to the defense counselor, back to the prosecutor. They looked exactly the same. They were twins.
“Um, well when is my trial to begin?” I asked.
“In one hour,” replied the king. “You should take your rest until then.”
I was not going to rest until then. I defy anyone to “rest until then” in a similar situation. Try this with someone you know. Tell them “I’m going to tell you something that will change your life in one hour. Rest until then.” See if they rest. Or tell them “In one hour you will find out if you live or die. Rest until then.” I will wager that they won’t rest. Or tell them “In one hour I’m going to give you a pie.” Then don’t give them a pie. They won’t rest. That may not be exactly the same, but they won’t rest. Watch and see.
“What are you doing now?” asked the king.
“I’m pondering the future.”
“Such as it is,” he said, nodding sagely. Then the three walked away, leaving me to my own thoughts.
An hour later I was marched out of my cell and taken to an open glade within the wood. This space had obviously been used as a ceremonial center for many years. Covered areas had been built for spectators as well as individuals involved in whatever ordinance was being performed. The awnings were made of wood, but they were covered with many layers of vines, while here and there, trees grew up through them. Most of the seats were intricately carved of stone and had been worn very smooth by extended use. I was led to a spot on one side, where Iidreiior waited. On the other side of the glade, stood his twin.
A few minutes after I arrived, a whole crowd of elves began filing into the open forest area. There must have been about two hundred of them. Though I carefully watched for her, Jholiera was nowhere to be seen. At last King Jholhard appeared and took his place in a stone chair raised only slightly higher than the others.
“What is the charge?” asked the king without any preamble.
“The prisoner is charged with the abduction of a princess of the royal blood,” said Iidreiion.
“How does he plead?”
“Guilty,” said Iidreiior.
“After having weighed all the important details,” said the king, placing far too much emphasis on the word important for my liking. “The prisoner is hereby found guilty as charged.”
“Death,” said Iidreiion.
“Agreed,” said Iidreiior.
“What? Wait. What kind of trial is this?” I demanded accusingly, my back straight, but without my arm being outstretched, as it was still tied to the other arm.
“It is a show trial,” said the king. “It is called a show trial because it is only for show. There is no real justice involved.”
“I know what a show trial is,” said I. “I’ve been in enough of them.”
The two hundred or so elves in attendance watched mutely as I was dragged back to the cell in the cave and left there once again. All in all, it was hardly worth being dragged to the glade in the first place. They could just as easily have told me I was guilty and condemned to death right there. Sitting down, I leaned against the wall of the cave and winced as my back came into contact with the stone. After a few minutes the king appeared outside the bars.
“Why bother with a show trial that lasts three minutes?” I wondered.
“As I said, it is for show,” he said.
“But why? I never kidnapped your daughter. I was helping her come home.”
“Yes I know. It’s her punishment. She needs to learn that she can’t run off. There are consequences. Your trial and your execution tomorrow morning will remind her of that fact.”
“You’re going to execute an innocent man to make a point to your daughter?”
“It’s not as though you were an elf,” he said. “You’re only human.”