The Songstress of Avalon
"I, Alessandro Leone, the Second Minister of the Royal Household, reject the petitioner's motion on behalf of King Gennaro Ambroso."
This brusque rejection was not accompanied by any reason, nor did the king's representative suggest any alternative route the petitioner could take to obtain the remedy he was seeking. Unfortunately for the common people, this was a defining characteristic of this court of equity. The petitioner, who had some dispute or other with his neighbour in respect to some cattle, would have to return home empty handed.
A courtier approached the king's throne and handed Alessandro Leone a scroll containing details of the next petition; his movements in unraveling the scroll were indifferent and unhurried, but he quickly vacated the king's throne after reading its contents.
"As the next petitioner is a personage of great import, King Gennaro Ambroso will personally administer the king's equity."
Alessandro spoke in the booming voice expected of a statesman, but it was with the hasty steps of a mouse that he descended the steps of the throne. After all, hearing these petitions on the king's behalf was hardly a plum job, and given his youthful looks, it was likely that he was still a junior minister whose contact with the king must have been minimal.
In any case, he was just as in awe as the rest of the spectators when a royal courtier appeared to introduce King Gennaro.
The king ascended to his throne gracefully and immediately called for the petition's main actors to appear before him - the spectators made way so that Prince Lorenzo, Gilbert Gloom, Arisa and I could make our way to the foot of the steps leading up to the throne.
"I believe," the king began to speak, "that it is in the interest of justice and equity that this petition be granted, and that the alien residing within the hallowed halls of the Avispan embassy be detained and answerable to Prince Lorenzo del Fiore who wishes to pursue a criminal charge against her."
As was often the case, the interested parties did not receive any opportunity to offer a counter argument. The facts of the case, after all, were written and known to the king and therefore he had everything he needed to make a decision. To allow for counterarguments would be tantamount to claiming the king has erred, and how could that be?
"Your majesty, we would like to offer Prince Lorenzo one more opportunity to withdraw his petition," I said - if I directed my counter against the petitioner, then the king had no reason to take offense.
"You really are grasping at straws, Ayato," the prince shook his head smugly, and then turned to the king, bowing deeply as his legal advisor, Gilbert Gloom, spoke on their side's behalf.
"We accept and appreciate your majesty's grace."
I walked over to where the pair of them sat and whispered into the prince's ear; Gilbert Gloom had not heard, and was surprised when Lorenzo suddenly began to dart his eyes around at the spectators gathered in the royal court. He turned to me and began to snarl:
"You're lying! I don't see her..."
The king looked languidly down at us from his throne - from that distance, our squabble must have looked incredibly petty. "Is something the matter, then?" he asked.
"No, your majesty," it was Gilbert Gloom who spoke. "Please, continu-,"
"No!" Prince Lorenzo interrupted, much to the surprise of the crowd and most of all to Gilbert Gloom himself. "Request a side consultation, Gloom. I... I-I have to confirm something with the defendants."
Gilbert Gloom stared at the prince with his hard eyes, unmoving. It wasn't until Lorenzo met his gaze with a wild look of his own that the lawyer turned to the king, bowed deeply, and made his request. The king sighed and granted it, and soon the four of us were ushered into a separate room where we could talk to our hearts' content.
The room was not empty.
A woman sat on a chair facing the door, and given her immense beauty, she was the first thing anybody would have noticed when they walked in. Arisa and I were the ones who arranged for her to wait here, and so we were not shocked by her presence; Gilbert Gloom merely looked confused, while Prince Lorenzo was clearly upset.
"It seems I've been betrayed," he spoke through gritted teeth.
"I've heard everything," Mab stood up. "You can't do this, Lorenzo. Your brother would never hav-,"
"You've betrayed his memory too," Lorenzo cut in, pointing an accusing finger at me. "Don't you see that he died because he followed this man? This hero?"
From the corner of my eye, I could see Gilbert Gloom lean closer to Arisa and whisper audibly, "a fake hero". She reacted by pushing him away.
"I can already see through your plan," Lorenzo regained his composure. "The succession laws don't discriminate against baseborn children, yes? Or even by gender... you're going to claim that the child growing in your belly, my niece or nephew, is the true successor to my brother's office. But there's a big problem with that..."
"W-w-what, how did you know?" Arisa looked taken aback.
"Gloom, you're a great legal man," the prince said. "You must have a grasp of the general facts after listening to these small snippets of conversation. Can you explain to these fools just exactly what's wrong with their plan?"
"With pleasure," the lawyer accepted his cue. "It seems to me that the child in question has not yet been born. Since he was not a legal entity at the time of Prince Tommaso's demise, the office rightfully passed to the late prince's next-of-kin at the time of death. That is Prince Lorenzo, of course."
"You see," the prince took a bow. "I am my brother's legitimate successor. But don't you worry, Mab - despite what you've done, I will make sure you and my brother's child are well taken care of. But please, no more talk of usurping my office..."
"The child is already born," I smiled. "In fact, he was born a year ago, before Tommo died."
"Again with the lies."
"Of course I'm lying. The child was born last week, but what's to stop us from telling the courts that the boy is older than he really is?"
"Bah," Prince Lorenzo looked undisturbed. "Do you know how much growing babies do in their first year of life? You will never be able to pass a newborn off as a toddler, and by then, this girl here will already be in prison."
"It seems like you've forgotten my heritage," Mab spoke softly. "Your nephew is a halfling, remember? He possesses a demon's physiology; it really is quite amazing... despite being just over a week old, he's already... oh, I don't know, about this high?" she indicated about two feet from the ground.
Lorenzo had turned as white as a sheet. Seeing this, Arisa pounced, outlining all of her demands.
"Drop the petition against me, you jerk, and the criminal charge. Call your grunts off so that I can leave the embassy whenever I want without being harassed!"
He seemed to be thinking deeply. A royal courtier poked his head into the consultation room, and informed us that the king was getting impatient and that we should try to wrap up soon. The prince eventually sighed, before squaring up to me. He had regained some colour in his face, but I could tell that he was still simmering.
"All this because of that girl?" he spoke acidly.
"That's my line," I replied. "You did all this because of Arisa? You even dug this guy out from who-knows-where... I thought he had thrown himself onto Arturo's funeral pyre," I was gesturing towards Gilbert Gloom.
"I resent that," Gloom said dryly. "In any case, my prince, should we not continue with our petition? These upstarts are talking about committing fraud, and we can deal with your nephew in the courts later on..."
"No. Drop the petition."
"Demon children grow faster than humans. Everybody knows that," he clenched his teeth. "If they tell the king that my brother's son was born before he died, he'll believe it... and then I won't be a prince-elector anymore... don't you see the petition rests completely on my position?!"
"Accept Arisa's demands, and we won't come after you or your title. You have my word," I assured him.
"As if we can trust the word of this contingency hero!" it was Gilbert Gloom's turn to be incensed. "Don't be a coward, Lorenzo! We still have to try! Don't tell me you consider your position more important than justice! Justice for Arturo...!"
The usually calm and dignified Gloom grabbed Lorenzo by the collar and shook him, pleading with him to continue the petition. It was a strange show, and vaguely reminded me of a video game that I had played not so long ago about being a lawyer, although one completely different to Gilbert Gloom - in the game, you had to expose imperturbable witnesses as being the true murderer, and it often ended with them losing their cool just like this.
Never content to be manhandled, Prince Lorenzo pushed Gloom away with trembling hands. I was surprised the people outside could not hear us, but then again, the walls and the door were quite thick. This was, after all, the room they used for side consultations and had to be guarded from eavesdroppers.
"This title means everything to me, Gloom!" Lorenzo scowled. "It's the only thing I have left of him... of Tommaso..."