The watch weighed heavily in Maddy’s pocket as she and Grort approached the city gates. She had almost left it behind, but Grort had spotted it in the dirt next to Jack’s backpack. “We dwarves have the silversight,” he explained. “Useful down in the mines.” After all of her bad luck so far, finding Jack’s watch in the bushes felt like things had maybe started to turn. She instinctively grasped the necklace under her shirt, which had been a present from Nana on her 10th birthday, along with Jack’s watch. The necklace, a simple rectangle made of silver was originally a present from their late grandfather to Nana on their wedding night; the watch, her gift to him.
The city gate rose above abridging stone walls. A single soldier stood watch in the middle of the gate, although Maddy could hear echoing footsteps atop the walls in either direction. The soldier looked coldly at Maddy and Grort, raising an eye at Maddy’s clothes.
“State your business in New Wales.”
“Well sir, my brother’s been…”
“… been waiting for us to arrive with the new shipment from Stonelands, sir,” interrupted Grort.
“What’s in the shipment?”
“Stop. I want to hear it from the girl, dwarf.”
Grort started to say something to the guard, but Maddy held her hand out to stop him. She turned and gave the soldier a steel gaze, paused for a second, and began to speak in an echoing voice.
“It’s three pounds of fresh pipe weed, bound for the capital. I’ll mind you not to tarry us further, else my buyer will want to know who was responsible for his leaf going stale and I don’t think he’ll be too happy to come down river and deal with the likes of you, guard.”
A rush of color returned to Maddy’s face as she finished speaking. She didn’t even wait for the soldier to motion them through the gate, as she grabbed Grort by the arm and walked through. Turning back, Maddy could see the soldier’s mouth gaped open.
“What was that, lass?”
“I don’t know! I froze for a second and then out of nowhere, my lips started moving and the words just came out.”
“Well whatever it was, it sure did the trick. That soldier’s not likely to trifle with you ever again.”
Maddy looked out into the city. Rows of small houses interspersed with larger brick buildings and church spires dotted the landscape. Ship masts poked out from the horizon and a breeze brought a foul stench from their direction. Her mind wandered to the family trip to colonial Williamsburg they had taken two summers ago, but the people milling about the street were definitely not actors and they did not seem eager to explain to Maddy how a butter churn worked.
“Welcome to New Wales. It’s not pretty, but the people are hardworking and decent, which is more than I can say about their cousins in the capital. I’ve spent many a night’s drinkin’ with the shipbuilders down at the wharf.”
“You’re sure this is where they would have taken Jack?”
“Aye. They won’t have bothered to ship him down river just yet, not before his trial anyway.”
“Yes, an interesting system you humans have. We dwarves would rather settle our problems with fightin’, drinkin’, or seein’ who can withstand the dragon fire forge the longest, but it’s not for everyone, I suppose. You’ll need to hire Jack a barrister for him to have any chance of winning.”
“But I don’t have any money!”
“True, but you have a lot of weird and interesting stuff in that pack, don’t ya?”
“This way. The best brokers are on Piccadilly Street.”
A bell rang when Maddy opened the door to the pawn shop. Dust kicked up under her feet as she and Grort maneuvered around the myriad shelves piled high with odd-looking objects. Maddy stopped at the counter in the back of the shop, where an old man in spectacles was napping behind a glass window.
The old man did not stir. Maddy rapped on the glass. No response.
“Sir! It’s urgent!”
The old man’s eyes slowly opened.
“Mmm? We’re closed. Good day.”
The old man closed his eyes, as Maddy stood in front of the window, perplexed.
“Step aside, lass. I’ll handle this.”
Grort withdrew something from his coat and slammed it onto the counter. When the layers of collected dust settled again, Maddy saw that it was a large hammer. Intricate symbols decorated the ornate handle and continued up onto the metal. The old man eyed it through his spectacles, but remained silent.
“Don’t make me use this, old man. I don’t want to have to clean glass shards out of my beard again. Now, the lass would like to speak with ya. Are ya still going to sit there, pretending to sleep?”
“I didn’t think it possible to inlay Argosh oak with silver, impressive. From the runes on the head, this looks like it hails from the dank pit that it is Eysteinn Hall.”
“And what would ya know of Eysteinn? We’ve had no human visitors for more than a quarter span.”
“Oh, just what I hear from passersby. Now, as the hammer is unfortunately not within my budget, what does the young lady have to show me?”
“By the grace of his excellency, George III, King of Great Britain, King of Ireland, and Duke of Hanover, may his rule never cease, this court is called to order.”
Jack had not noticed the tiny old man who had entered through a camouflaged door in the back and quickly rose to his feet. He had earned the ire of the guard on the way over by constantly stopping to gawk at the city. The buildings all looked normal enough, if one ignored the fundamental absurdity of being in a land filled with elves and dwarves, but something seemed off to Jack. The rows of wooden houses all gave off an other-worldly glow and none of the windows he passed showed his reflection. Unfortunately, each time Jack had stopped to take a closer look, the guard would whack him with the butt of his musket and he now had matching pains in his back to go with the one on his head.
Jack’s cellmate did not seem as concerned with ceremony, and by the time he eventually stood up, blood was dripping from his nose. The judge, clad in an unkempt silver wig and dusty robes, peered down at the two prisoners from his perch.
“Prisoner 9286, step forward!”
The old man wiped the blood from his upper lip and spit at the floor towards the judge. The guard raised his musket, but before he could rain another blow, the judge held up his hand.
“I appreciate your enthusiasm, Private, but there will be plenty of opportunities for 9286 to become familiar with a blunt object where he’s going.”
If the old man seemed relieved by the stay of punishment, he didn’t show it.
“9286, you are accused of desertion and conspiring with seditious individuals. How do you plead?”
The old man began to open his mouth, and then paused and stared down at the ground, his lips moving silently, fists curled into balls. Finally, he began to speak.
“Ain’t no proper army that drafts old men and young boys, Your Lordship,” the old man spit again, “but far be it for a wharfsman to question the wisdom of our esteemed Council.”
Jack saw the corner of the old man’s mouth twist up slightly as he finished his speech, a look of muted triumph in his eyes. The judge’s face remained expressionless.
“10 years in the mines. Next prisoner step forward!”
Before the old man could protest, several guards appeared and dragged him out of the back of the courtroom. Jack could hear muffled screams getting softer and softer, until finally a loud whack silenced them. He turned back toward the judge, a huge lump in his throat.
“Prisoner 9287, you are accused of desertion, how do you plead?”
The doors of the courtroom swung open violently. A tall, lanky man with greasy hair strode into the room, trailed by what Jack could only assume was a dwarf and a young girl.
“Jack, you’re all right!”
Maddy began to run up the aisle toward Jack, but several guards moved to block her path.
“SILENCE! What is the meaning of this outburst?”
“Your Honor, if I may,” said the greasy-haired man, catching up to Maddy . “I am this boy’s barrister and I’ll thank you for not starting the proceedings without giving me a minute to confer with my client.”
“God help him then, Mr. Mitchell. I’m surprised you still have not been disbarred. I’ll have to write to my friends in the capital again once this hearing is finished.”
Jack saw Maddy glare at the barrister, as he casually pushed the guards aside and walked up to Jack.
“Disbarred? You said you were the best barrister in the city!” yelled Maddy.
“Quiet, girl! I know what I’m doing.”
The barrister turned Jack away from the judge and held out his other hand.
“Stan Mitchell. And you are?”
“Jack, J-Jack Richards.”
“It’s a pleasure, Jack. Now, what are you charged with?”
“Ooh, that’s a tough one. Don’t think I’ve handled one of those in ten years, but worry not. The judge and I are on excellent terms. I’ll smooth this whole thing out.”
“That’s a good lad. You just take a seat here and let me do the talking.”
Jack sat down on the bench and turned toward Maddy, who had found a seat behind him along with the dwarf.
“Jack! I’m so glad you’re OK! I didn’t think we’d be able to find you!”
Jack’s eyes moved past Maddy and onto the dwarf. His mouth gaped open but he couldn’t muster any words.
“I may be the first dwarf ya’ve seen, but hopefully I won’t be the last, so I’d quit your staring if I was you.”
The dwarf stared back at Jack with a deadly serious look, before cracking a smile.
“Jack, this is Grort. He helped me find you..”
The bang of the judge’s gavel echoed throughout the courtroom.
“I’m sorry to interrupt this touching reunion, but we are still in the middle of a trial here. Now, Mr. Mitchell, what say you on behalf of the boy?
“Well, Your Lordship, the boy is very sorry for deserting and he won’t do it again. Ain’t that right, boy?”
Jack stared at the barrister and then at Maddy dumbfounded.
“This is who you hired?” whispered Jack.
“Like I said, he told us he was the best barrister in the city!”
Jack turned back toward the judge.
“That was incredibly moving, Mr. Mitchell. I’m not sure how I would get through the day without hearing the refuse that flows from your brilliant legal mind.”
“I take exception to that, Your Lordship.”
“I’m sure that you do. Now turning back to the matter at hand. 9287, your choice of barrister was … unfortunate, and I’m afraid I have no choice but to sentence you to five years in the mi..”
The door burst open a second time and a hooded figure walked slowly into the courtroom, supported by a cane.
“Sorry I’m late everyone.”