There was just one second, in the air, with her head tilted back to see the bright sky, when Jillian thought she was flying up to meet the Titans. This was it. Her life was over.
Then she landed hard on the stone floor of the courtyard and rolled backward. Her boot glanced off something: Olive‘s ribcage. The Overlady was gasping for breath, pitifully struggling to rise to her hands and knees. Jillian looked up and around at shocked faces, trying to get a bearing.
Oh, Titans‘ taint. He‘d disbanded her gwiffon...
“You know...” said Charlie‘s voice, “I‘ll let you folks sort this out and give me a callback later if you feel you need something. I‘ve got other business to attend to, ‘kay? Your Highness, King Banhammer...it‘s been an honor and a pleasure, and I wish you luck. Call me back if you need me. I gotta go.”
The bright blue rectangle went blank, then vanished.
Chief Jillian rose slowly to her feet, keeping her sword drawn and ready. Olive was now curled at Banhammer‘s sandaled feet, head buried, shoulders heaving with sobs. Jillian‘s father stared her down, silently ordering her not to approach, then he bent down to comfort the crying prisoner.
Jillian stood there with her mouth hanging open, searching for grounds to ignore this order too. But with Charlie off the call, she couldn‘t quite make the case.
There was the barest touch of a hand on her own shoulder. “I feel compelled to point out,” said Jack, “that just because he broke the call with me doesn‘t mean he couldn‘t now be using Thinkamancy to negotiate with her.”
“Yeah,” said Jillian, gesturing with her sword. “Prisoner! Sit up and keep your face visible!”
Olive did as ordered and sat up, weeping piteously. Banhammer stood and glared straight at his daughter, looking about to say or do something else to her. But Lady Firebaugh stepped between them.
“I am sorry, Your Wisdom,” Wanda said, lowering her head respectfully. “I did not consider the possibility that Charlie might try to negotiate with her. To my knowledge, they have not even spoken since he fled.”
“Shut up, Wanda!” sobbed Olive. “You don‘t know anything about it!”
“I know what I have seen and heard. I know what you have told me. And what you have done to me,” said the Croakamancer. “And I will share all of these things with the Court, so they will know what you are. You cannot stop me.”
“What you have shared with the Court so far,” said King Banhammer sourly, “has been insufficient and unconvincing.” There were assenting murmurs from the jury.
“I realize that, Your Wisdom,” said Wanda, “but there is very much more to tell. Nearly two thousand people are planted in my stone garden. Most of their stories point to this woman. She was their downfall and their demise. I can show you, and I can tell you. But only if we have the time, and you will listen.”
“We don‘t have the time,” said Jillian, shaking her head. “If Charlie is even thinking about throwing in with Haffaton, they can take this city.”
Banhammer ignored her. “I don‘t believe you understand me,” he said to Lady Firebaugh. He folded his arms. “It will take more than your own testimony to convict the defendant. It‘s clear you have a personal score to settle with her. Anything you say here could be an elaborate fiction. Certainly not grounds for an execution.”
Wanda gave him a sad smile. “Then it‘s a pity she croaked all the other witnesses...save Charlie. I will pinkie swear upon my life to tell only the truth of what I know.”
Banhammer stood in stern silence. At his feet, Olive sniffed and glared at Lady Firebaugh through tear-bleary eyes.
“It will be insufficient,” he said, his eyes narrowing. “In time, you may gather up evidence, even proof that she has done some great evil. When you have a case, you may present it. But mark my words!” he said, raising a finger. “Even that may not suffice. I will not end this woman‘s life unless you prove both her crimes and that she is beyond redemption.”
He broke eye contact with Lady Firebaugh and looked upon his casters. “For whither mercy, in Wisdom? Surely it commands a seat at this Court. If she has done terrible ill, she may yet repent. She may yet reform, become enlightened, and do good in Erfworld. If so, then why cut short the better part of her Life? Would that not only add another crime?”
Betsy, Adderall and Labeller all folded their hands in front of them, a silent call for all to meditate upon this Wisdom.
Banhammer nodded. “This trial is adjourned, absent verdict.” He put his hands on his hips and looked up at the tall emerald towers above. “We should seek quarters, and meditate. We shall reconvene at start of turn.”
“If we get one!” shouted Jillian. Her voice sounded loud in the stillness, even to her. “If they attack this city–”
“If they attack this city, then a tactical execution of their Overlady remains an option!” snapped Banhammer. “We will parley with them and make that fact very plain. But it is an option. A last, worst resort, not our first or best one.” His eyes shone with fierce contempt. “Did I put that in martial enough language to be clear to you, Warlady?”
Jillian let her sword arm fall to a less ready position. She cleared her throat. “She stays with me at all times. Within striking distance.”
“Unless I order otherwise,” said Banhammer warningly. “You cavort carelessly on treacherous ground, Princess. In time, you may earn my forgiveness for your disobedience and disrespect this day.” He offered Olive his hand, and the prisoner unfolded her legs to stand up. “But if you slay this woman against my will, nothing will ever redeem you in my eyes. Think on it.”
Putting her sword through Olive‘s heart was nearly the only thought Jillian could sustain, besides her ever-present need for a new bud. Titans, she could smell one right now.
But perhaps she should consider how things were going to be when this was all over. Her homebody father had come far out into the field to rescue her, and it was kinda obvious she had pushed him too far. He was probably right. Haffaton wouldn‘t just attack if they could croak Olive at any time. They‘d try to bargain. Even Charlie would make sure he was getting the best deal on the table...
“Yes, sire,” she said simply, and sheathed her sword.
The King helped the prisoner to her feet, as casters began to form little groups and move toward the tower. Labeller escorted Orwell, the unfortunate prisoner of circumstance, by the arm.
Jillian could only follow on foot, looking up at the sky to spot her two remaining gwiffons. She‘d need to call one down to replace the one her father had cost them. She squinted up into the sunlight and haze, looking for yellow blotches among the green spires. There was one...
And there was the other, no...both? She squinted. There looked to be several yellow blotches up there.
Haze? El-Efbaum‘s sky should have been clear.
That was smoke.
She could smell it. And she could smell heroine buds! More sky-blotches appeared, in different colors. Streaks of pink and green and purple. She felt light on her feet. For once, she was not feeling the need for a flower, and that felt like very bad news. But it also felt happy and right, the most powerful relief of her life.
A crash happened nearby. She turned quickly to see that Orwell had fallen into a clay planter, breaking it into wobbling shards. He was laughing or sobbing; his belly shook in waves. For a moment he looked gelatinous, just like her lost gwiffon. She looked around the patio.
The other casters were inversions and reflections of themselves. The Lady Firebaugh stood as if framed in a mirror, a version of herself that seemed whole and beautiful.
Jillian gurgled, trying to shout a warning. “Thissiz... Attack!” She couldn‘t be sure she‘d said anything, as the dreams swept her further away within herself. She tried to turn to where her father had been standing.
The bald jester stood there now.
“She ran away!” shouted the furious fool, leaping up and down and pumping his balled-up fists. “You let her get away!”