As the figure passed, Maddy saw the sunlight reflect off of a pair of spectacles.
“It seems the young miss’s money was unfortunately misspent.” The hooded figure paused in front of Mitchell, raised his cane, and poked the end of it into Mitchell’s chest, who tried to swat it away.
“What business is it of yours, old man? It’s not my fault that the girl put her trust in the wrong barrister.”
Maddy didn’t see the cane leave Mitchell’s chest, but the next thing she knew, she heard a crack and the slimy barrister slumped to the ground. The figure looked down at the barrister satisfied and continued walking towards the judge, stopping next to Jack.
“ORDER! ORDER! ORDER! I WILL HAVE ORDER!”
The judge’s voice cracked on the third repetition.
“So help me God, I will throw the lot of you in the stocks for this insolence.”
“Now, now, Henry. No need for idle threats.”
The figure finally removed his hooded cloak to reveal the old pawnbroker, dressed in tattered linens.
“I happened to be in the neighborhood and sensed something was amiss, so I thought I would drop in on my old friend. It seems you haven’t changed a bit.”
“And you, Lord Malcolm Dorian Trafford, have seen better days. I never expected to see you again after your expulsion from the Council, but you’ve really taken to the life of a vagabond.”
“Vagabond? That’s a bit unfair, Henry.” Trafford paused and looked down at his clothing and chuckled.
“Point taken, but you don’t become the least successful pawnbroker in all of New Wales by dressing like a nobleman.”
“Enough banter, Trafford. Why are you here?”
“Well, your .. Lordship, is it? I seemingly funded this boy’s defense, which turned out to be piss poor.” Trafford reached back with his cane to nudge the head of the unconscious barrister. “So, I’m here to step in on his behalf and argue for his innocence.”
“How very thoughtful of you, but seeing as how you are not a barrister…”
“You’re quite right, but I am still a lord, am I not? Therefore I may appear before any court in the Kingdom.”
“You were expelled from the Council!”
“Yes, but only the King has the power to strip me of my peerage, and seeing as how we’ve not heard from him in quite some time, I still remain Baron of New Leicester, with all the spoils that entails. May I proceed?”
The judge stared at the pawnbroker for what seemed liked hours before silently indicating that he could continue.
“Thank you, your Lordship. Now, if I may put the boy on the stand, so that I can ask him a few questions?”
“Excellent.” Lord Trafford motioned for Jack to sit in the chair to the right of the judge.
“Now, Jack, are you a citizen of New Britain?”
“No sir, I’ve never heard of it.”
“And you have not been ordered to report to basic training, correct?”
“No sir, I’ve never even fired a gun before.”
“And you are not currently serving in the militia, correct?”
“And you are not currently attending Woolwich, correct?”
“I’ve never heard of that school.”
“And you are not currently attending Portsmouth, correct?”
“No sir, is that in England?”
“Right, and so to sum up, you have never served nor were ever asked to serve in His Majesty’s armed forces?”
“I.. I live in America, so I wouldn’t have…”
“Thank you, young man, you may step down.”
Jack walked down from the stand and gave Maddy a quizzical look.
“Interesting guy you found, I hope he knows what’s he’s doing,” said Jack in a whisper.
“I never thought he would show up here. I didn’t even tell him what I needed the money for!”
“It wouldn’t be the first weird thing to happen today.”
Maddy started to say something, but Lord Trafford had turned back toward the judge.
“Your Lordship, I believe the young man’s testimony clearly demonstrates that he cannot be guilty of deserting an army he was never part of to begin with. I therefore respectfully submit that this Court should release this young man and allow him to return to his family.”
Maddy couldn’t tell if the judge was actually considering Lord Trafford’s argument or was merely toying with them, but it was a good five minutes before the judge finally responded.
“Lord Trafford, as much as it pains me to say this, you make a compelling argument, and I have no choice but to find the boy not guilty of desertion, but…”
Maddy, Jack and Grort erupted in cheer. Maddy turned to thank Lord Trafford, but the pawnbroker’s expression had turned melancholy.
“BUT, although the young man has not deserted, he is of military age and resident in New Britain,” said the judge, whose mouth had formed into a wicked grin. “Under writ from the Council, I have no choice but to draft him into His Majesty’s armed forces and I order him to report to Central Command within one week of today, August 21, 2014. This Court is now adjourned, good day.”
The room fell silent as the judge retreated through the camouflaged door, interrupted only by the intermittent groans of Mitchell. Jack joined Maddy and Grort in the first row of benches behind the front table, and Lord Trafford walked slowly towards them.
“I don’t understand,” said Maddy. “I thought we had won!”
“Evidently, the judge wanted to settle an old score with me through your brother. I knew it was a risk, but the army, from what I gather, is a lot more pleasant than the dank mine where Jack was headed.”
“Now see here, Lord, don’t go talkin’ about our mines like that!” said Grort, glaring at Trafford.
“Master dwarf, you know better than I that no human would ever be allowed in a dwarven mine. No, where Jack was headed was a place far, far worse. The Council first commissioned the Lothian Mines before my expulsion, under pretenses of circumventing the steep Dwarven tariffs. They’ve yet to bear fruit, but it provides a convenient place to stick undesirables. That reminds me…”
Trafford reached into a pocket in his cloak and withdrew two small objects, placing them each in Jack and Maddy’s hands. Jack looked down to see his pocket watch. With all of the craziness of the day, he hadn’t realized it was missing. He looked over and saw Maddy fastening her necklace back around her neck.
“Seeing as how your barrister turned out to be a dud, the least I can do is to return your valuables. Now, if we hurry, we can catch a ferry downriver and arrive in the capital by the morning.”
Jack clutched the pocket watch tightly in his hand.
“No!” Everyone turned to look at him in surprise.
“I’ve fallen off a cliff, been captured by Redcoats escaped from Colonial Williamsburg and was nearly sent to die in a mine. I’m not going anywhere until someone tells me where the hell we are!”
Trafford turned and put his hand on Jack’s shoulder.
“I understand your frustration, son. But time is of the essence and we need to catch that ferry. I’ll explain what I can on the way.”
The sun was beginning to set as the four of them walked down the courthouse steps. Jack could see streetlights illuminating the wide avenue in both directions; but where the light came from, he could not tell.
“They’re wisplights, courtesy of our friends across the river,” said Trafford. “Part of the Treaty of ‘72. Evidently, the elves didn’t like the smell of gas wafting into the forest, so they practically insisted that we take them. Me, I miss the yellow glow of the gaslights.”
“You and me both,” said Grort. “Where do ya think the gas came from to power those lights? Meddlesome elves.”
“No offense to your kin, but both you and the Woodlands have been meddling in our affairs when it suits you for hundreds of years. Not that we don’t appreciate the meddling.” Grort’s face became animated at the last comment, but Trafford held up his hand before Grort could respond. “There will be plenty of time to discuss politics later, but I promised the boy some answers.”
Trafford motioned for Jack and Maddy to walk closer to him as they turned off the main avenue. Whereas the main avenue had some sense of order, with blocks appearing at near-equal intervals, this side street soon branched into a dozen different directions.
“I suspect we’re already drawing enough unwanted attention between your clothes and our friend Grort here, so stay close.”
That proved somewhat difficult, as Trafford switched to a dizzying pace and kept turning down a new street every few steps. Jack now suspected that the cane was just for show.
“Four hundred years ago, the British began their colonization of America. Within a hundred years, they had finished settling most of the East Coast. Naturally, the Crown turned its sights elsewhere. The Spanish and the Portuguese had beaten it to South America, Africa was a mystery, and India had unfortunately been ceded to the East India Trading Company. Rumors of a lost continent had been around for hundreds of years, but no one had ever thought of launching an official expedition to find it. That was, until 1742, when the Crown held a secret audience with Warrick Hargrave, previously the captain of a New York-based merchant ship. What was said at the meeting or how Hargrave even got the meeting remains a mystery, but this much we do know. Three months later, the Crown ordered the HMS Anglesea to escort a small group of ships belonging to the recently-commissioned New Britain Trading Company, headed by none other than Hargrave. The result was a disaster. The Anglesea sank after colliding with a breakwater not one hour out of port and the rest of ships got caught in the wreckage. Hargrave was disgraced and never heard from again.
“But that’s not what really happened, is it?” asked Jack.
“No, for obvious reasons, the whole story was a cover. The Crown didn’t want it getting out that there was an unspoiled continent for the taking, lest it have to fight the rest of Europe on yet another front. Of course, this was before anyone realized that the natives of this continent were a far cry from the ones in America. If Hargrave styled himself as the next Cortes, those expectations were shattered upon landing, when he found representatives from the Woodlands and the Mountains waiting for him. The Treaty of Landing, as it was later called, was signed that night. Fortunately for Hargrave, the terms were favorable enough: the New Britain Trading Company was granted the land along the river valley between the Woodlands and the Mountains so long as no human ever strayed into either dominion uninvited. The elves and the dwarves asked for little in return, as they considered us curiosities more than anything and were happy to have us as a buffer and sometime-trading partner. Hargrave left within the week to report back to the Crown. His ship returned, but he did not. Instead, the First Governing Council of New Britain arrived to take control of the colony from the now-dissolved Trading Company. Ah, here we are.”
Trafford had led them down an alley which dead-ended at a pair of cellar doors.
“This isn’t the pawn shop,” said Maddy.
“No, my lady, it isn’t. I don’t actually keep anything of valuable at the shop. If you’ll kindly wait here, I’ll be back in a minute.”
Trafford produced a key from his cloak, unlocked the doors, and descended into the darkness. As the old man disappeared, Jack saw a small piece of paper fall out of his cloak. Maddy, deep in conversation with Grort, seemed not to notice. Jack bent down to pick up the paper, which he now saw was a folded piece of parchment. He unfolded it to find three words written in silver ink.
“They are coming.”