Shepherd Amos arrived for Carina and Avi before the sun was up. Bhoora was already sniffing around the courtyard. Avi bid Bhoora stay in the gardened courtyard as Amos ushered him and Carina to the location of Rachit's trial.
It was a courtly room with a tall seat at the head. A glowing amber chandelier hung from the vaulted upper architecture. Intricate paintings adorned the ceiling. Tall narrow columns and windows lined the lavish room. The chamber’s sparse occupants whispered to each other in the lingering moments before the proceedings began.
Carina and Avi sat in the back row of seats on either side of Shepherd Amos. Avi found Amos's presence a comfort in this unpredictable event. Avi hoped for mercy for his Uncle. They had been waiting for a few minutes when something happened.
The back door of the chamber opened as a processional of attendants and staff streamed in and began taking their places. They each wore the traditional burgundy sash that indicated they were on royal business. Each figure had a role to play as they spread out about the room.
At the back of the processional came Rachit, surrounded by the three scorching celestial officers that had apprehended him. His face was downtrodden, and his demeanor dim. He glanced in the direction of Avi and Carina for a short moment. He gave no sign of recognition. He was led to a seat near the front of the chamber and guided to sit. Avi watched the location where Rachit sat until a noise broke his stare.
“Let me go, you glowing monsters!” A woman’s voice screeched. As the shouting increased in volume, Avi turned to see a female being led in by yet another group of officers. Unlike Rachit, the officers at her side had her tightly bound with their iron grip. They each glowed with a blazing orange hue, warning any who would interfere to stand back. The woman struggled against the three star-born warriors.
“Have a seat,” one officer said to her after dragging her to the front of the room.
“I'm not going to sit, you unbearable gargoyle,” she shouted with acid in her voice. The woman resisted the order, at which point the leading officer placed a luminous hand on her shoulder. She was compelled to sit by some unseen mystery. From where Avi was sitting, it looked not as if the officer had shoved her into her seat, but instead that at his touch, she could do nothing but comply with his order.
Now the belligerent woman, apparently a second defendant, and Rachit were both seated at the front of the chamber. As soon as the room grew quiet, a chime rang out from the front of the court. A tall wooden door at the left of the front edifice opened, and out came Low King Hans trailed by three attendants. Hans was wearing a robe as white at the nighttime stars. It reached all the way to the floor and dragged along the polished marble. Wrapped about his waist was a burgundy sash that offered a stark contrast to his otherwise glowing countenance.
As Hans entered in his regal attire, every person in the chamber, including the belligerent woman, rose to their feet. The massive wooden door closed with a thud, and the Low King made his way to the front of the court. His attendants found their way to smaller side chairs as Hans stood before the large middle seat. He raised his hands in the air, letting his glowing robe illuminate the room.
“Let us pray for wisdom,” he said to the courtroom. He spoke as if he were talking to a friend. “My dear Lord Emperor, please give us wisdom in this sacred endeavor. Lead us to have mercy where mercy is needed and justice in the ways you require. Amen.”
With the conclusion of the prayer, the entire room found their seats, as did Low King Hans. When he sat on the judgment bench, he took a long probing look at the two defendants. Without saying a word, he surveyed them with a kind of intensity that made Avi ache to understand what he was seeing. His eyes lingered on Rachit for only a few moments before he turned his stare to the belligerent female defendant. His eyes paused on her for much longer. Hans seemed to see something in the woman's face that deeply saddened him.
After surveying the two defendants, Hans looked to the crowd of onlookers and spoke.
“Thank you, my friends, for coming today. We do not often have to hold court for criminal action in Tamesh City. Having two criminal cases tried on the same day is extremely rare,” he said. Now Hans rose from his seat as he continued. His glowing robe trailed the steps at the precipice behind him. He stepped down to the ground floor.
“Who is our first defendant?” Hans asked. One of his attendants responded from behind a secretarial desk.
“Myra Aimsley Griffith,” the attendant said.
“And what are the charges?” Hans asked, though his practiced tone indicated that he didn’t need to hear the answer because he already knew.
“One count of unforgiveness, one count of hatred against a fellow citizen, one count of—”
“That will do,” Hans said, raising his hand. Avi was glad that Hans had stopped the attendant. Hearing the charges read aloud was turning his stomach. He had never met anyone who had been charged with hatred, and the idea made the blood drain from Avi’s face. Hans knelt in front of the woman’s chair and spoke to her in a gentle voice.
“Myra, I’m very sad to see you in this courtroom again,” Hans said with such a warm demeanor that Avi could have mistaken them for close relations. “I was desperately hoping that you would consider what I told you last time we met here. Do you remember what I said?”
She nodded, though she seemed to resist returning his stare. “Please, show me that you remember what I told you,” Hans said so softly that it was hardly a whisper. The woman was reluctant but seemed unable to disobey despite an apparent desire to do so.
“You said that if I were to put my faith in the Emperor, I would also be given the ability to overcome these sins,” Myra said as if the idea gave her physical pain.
“What else?” Hans asked.
“You told me you would personally mentor me in the ways of the Emperor if I would only believe in him for eternal life.”
“Was there anything else?” Hans asked.
“You said that either way, my crimes had to stop,” she said as if the words hurt her.
“And were you able to follow through on any of what I told you?” Hans asked. At that, the woman gasped as if she were trying to resist answering. Low King Hans reached out his hand and placed it on her shoulder. At the gentle touch, he spoke.
“You have permission to speak openly, Myra,” he said.
“I refuse,” she said weakly. “I refuse to put my faith in that evil autocrat. I don't believe he gives life. Even if he did, I wouldn't want the kind of life he gives. He's a dictator, a despot. He rules the world with a fist of iron. He's got the world under some kind of dark spell.” The woman was shouting by the end of her tirade.
Hans placed a hand on her shoulder once more, which immediately brought her to silence. He stood and turned, walking back to the judgment bench. With his back to the room, he said, “Please excuse me for a moment, I must speak with the Emperor.” He looked to one of the officers and said, “Zath?”
The celestial agent disappeared from his spot next to Rachit and reappeared at the same moment next to Hans. Zath laid his enormous hand across Hans's shoulder. A flash of light enveloped the room, and Low King Hans and Zath were gone. Almost as soon as the light died down, Avi realized that he had been holding his breath. He had about a thousand questions that he wanted to ask. As whispers filled the room, Avi leaned over to Shepherd Amos and plied him with his inquiries.
“Where has he gone?” Avi whispered.
“To Jerusalem to speak with the Lord of Lords,” Amos said.
“Why?” Carina whispered from Amos’ other side.
“The King doesn't force anyone to believe, though he does expect each to obey the Kingdom law. There are many law-abiding unbelievers in the kingdom. This woman has received mercy many times, in an attempt to bring her to belief, but having even one count of hatred would be an inexcusable crime. She has forced the administration to finalize the sentencing,” Amos explained.
“Are they going to—" Avi couldn't even bring himself to say the word. Amos didn't respond right away, but let his sad eyes drift toward the woman. As if he were experiencing a distant memory, he finally spoke.
“The Emperor has decided. Hans is returning. What you are about to witness will be difficult. If either of you would like to step outside, that is understandable,” Amos said. Neither moved, though Avi could hardly imagine how it could be any more unpleasant than what he had already witnessed.
A blinding flash of light filled the chamber. Zath and Hans stood in the courtroom. Hans sat upon his judgment bench, glowing brighter than he had before. Avi squinted into the brilliant intensity. Amos leaned over to Avi and whispered, “We always shine brighter after we’ve been in the direct presence of the Lord.”
Low King Hans addressed the courtroom. “Though the Emperor has invested in me the authority to execute judgment of this kind, I did not think it wise to go without consulting Him in person on this particular occasion. Refusals have come along so rarely in the last seven hundred years that I did not wish to proceed without his direct intervention. The Emperor and Lord has listened to this case in his own court. He has offered one more opportunity for mercy,” Hans said. He looked to Myra once more.
“Myra, my dear. I'm begging you to consider his offer. If you put faith in him, he will cleanse the guilt, and you will be forgiven. Your crimes will be applied to His Majesty's account. However, if you refuse, there's no other option. If you choose to stand alone in this, your crimes will be accounted to you.” A long pause followed as Hans waited for Myra to respond.
“I refuse the king’s so-called mercy,” the woman said. “I choose to stand trial alone for my supposed crimes.”
“What?” Avi whispered. He knew he was supposed to remain quiet, but he couldn’t help himself. Amos placed a steadying hand on Avi’s knee. Avi looked to Carina, who was virtually bouncing in her seat. It was nearly too much to bear. Avi wished he had excused himself from the court when he was offered the chance.
“On your refusal, I am forced to enact the full force of the law. The King has decreed that hatred is as murder in the heart, and must not be tolerated within the Empire,” Hans said. “By the power invested in me by the Emperor, I sentence you to death.”
With the word, Hans stepped down from his bench and walked toward the woman. His gentle footfalls echoed through the silent room. Avi's heart beat hotly in his chest and his eyes burned as Hans's light grew brighter still.
Low King Hans placed his hand on the woman's shoulder. In an instant, the woman was gone. Her lifeless body was drained of its vitality, and she sank to the floor. One of the celestial guards gathered her up in his arms. Hans's hand hung in the air where she had been. As he lowered his arm to his side, the Low King's face watered with tears. The entire room, it seemed, was overwhelmed with the emotion of the trial. For a short few moments, Hans cried. There was no shame in the tears. Avi was overcome with melancholy for the loss.
After the moment had passed, Avi wiped his eyes. When he did, he realized that the celestial guard holding the woman's body was now gone.
Hanz spoke in prayer. “Our dear Lord, please comfort us in this loss.” A warm rush of air blew through the room. A wind of calm and soothing swirled among the feelings of sadness. The mourning was not gone but was mixed with the essence of hope, and it became, all at once, bearable. Hans breathed deeply and now addressed the room.
“Who is our second defendant?” he asked.