When the defendant was at last allowed to speak, she bowed her head to King Banhammer and turned around to address the Court. The Overlady met the eyes of each juror, holding their gaze for a small but significant moment.
“This trial,” she said, her voice slow and focused, “is an extraordinary Kindness. I hope that you understand how grateful I am for it.”
She took two dainty, barefoot steps toward the jury, keeping her eyes moving among them. She ignored Chief Jillian completely.
From the saddle of her gwiffon, Jillian measured those two steps, and flexed her sword grip ever so slightly. But the prisoner did not come any closer than that. She only tilted her head to the side, then reached up with her manacled hands and brushed blonde curls away from her green eyes.
“I must tell you what it really means,” said Olive, “how special it makes the Court of Faq that you would offer me this chance to explain and defend myself. For you have not seen the broader world. You do not know how rare it is to find a shred of enlightenment anywhere in the darkness. On this important point, I would ask my first question of a witness. Princess Jillian.”
Now she did turn and look Jillian’s way. The Chief raised her eyebrows. “Hm?”
“You are Faq’s point of contact with the outside world. You’ve been in the field most of your life,” said the Overlady, taking one small step toward her. “You’ve dealt with many different sides as clients. That’s true, isn’t it?”
Jillian made a face, skeptical but amused. “Yeah, of course.”
“In all of your travels, have you ever,” said Olive, “encountered a side that would have done this? Stopped you from decapitating their enemy’s ruler, in order to let her speak freely to defend herself?”
Jillian made a soft little snorting noise. She looked to her left, where the last remaining units of Faq, casters all, stared back at her. Their faces were so earnest, some of them holding their chins up in judgment and appraisal, others raising their eyebrows inquiringly. However stupid it was, every single one of them was taking this trial seriously.
She tried not to smirk at the question. “No. I’ll admit that. Probably no other people in the world would be having a trial right now.” She shook her head at the bunch of them, closing her eyelids to cover up an involuntary eye roll.
Olive smiled, sweet and pretty. “Exactly,” she said, turning to the jury, “so you think no-one in the world wants to know the truth. That no-one thinks it’s important. That’s what I thought as well, before we discovered Faq. Please remember that; I thought it as well.”
She paused, then turned and approached King Banhammer. Standing to one side of the judicial bench, the Lady Firebaugh gave her former Chief Florist a narrow-eyed glare.
“This trial is about who I am,” said Olive, “what I am. And what I am is very simple.” At this moment, she planted her feet and addressed the King to his face, turning up her palms. “I am a disciple of King Loj Banhammer! One who until recently never knew he existed.” She pivoted back to the jurors, and pointed at them, her chains rattling. “I am a kindred spirit to each of you, only...lost. No-one ever shared Wisdom with me. I did not have any guidance. I was in the wild. I was in the darkness. I did the best that I could, without the benefit of your enlightenment.”
Jillian saw Wanda twitch and move her feet, as if she really wanted to say something. But the Croakamancer glanced at King Banhammer on the bench, and apparently thought better of it. Just as the opening statements of the prosecutor were not to be interrupted, so it was with the defendant.
“And so I made terrible mistakes,” said Olive, her face suddenly contorting in pain. “Lives were lost. No kind of caster is more sensitive to the value of Life than a Florist!” Her lower eyelashes glistened with welling tears, and a tremble crept into her voice. “But in every case, I did what I thought would bring peace. I made the smallest sacrifices I could, for the greatest possible benefit. I was often a fool. But never evil. Never a monster.”
Olive snapped a sharp look at the Lady Firebaugh, and raised her hands to point. “Haffaton only had one monster. And now she stands among you, unbidden, unwelcome. You must cast her out, if you want to survive! She’ll be the end of all of you!”
The jurors shifted in their chairs, either glancing at one another or staring at Wanda. Sister Betsy leaned and whispered something to Brother Labeler, who shook his head. Marie stared straight at Wanda, her lips pressed together tensely.
“Let her make her accusations! Because of your kindness, I will be able to tell you the truth of it, and because of your wisdom, you will listen. You’ll see that she lies. The root of evil is among you now. Do not make the terrible mistake of trimming a healthy branch.”
At this, the jurors broke into at least three separate mumbled conversations. Banhammer rapped his knuckles upon the bench until there was silence again.
“There is one person on trial here,” he said, “and I’ll take that as the conclusion of the defendant’s remarks. The prosecutor will now present testimony, and I would like to begin with the most serious charges: those of attempted heracide and patricide.”
Wanda stepped stiffly before the bench, shooting the barest glance at Olive. She cleared her throat. “Yes, Your Wisdom. But...in light of the defendant’s claim to be your disciple at heart, I first move that you ask her to turn to Faq.”
Jillian’s mouth opened, then widened to a huge grin as she realized the implications of that. Oh, wow. Yeah. Turning the Overlady would be essentially the same as croaking her, since there was no heir now. Haffaton would fall. Wanda was smart. If Olive turned, it was another way to win the war. Not that they’d want to be stuck with her on the Court of Faq, but what a way to call the Overlady’s bluff! She had to keep herself from letting go of Three-Edged to applaud.
Banhammer tilted his head in a listening pose. “Explain the motion?”
“If the defendant turns, it would of course remove any danger of enemy attack,” she said, “and likely begin our turn. This trial may continue after that, of course, with far less urgency. And I would be prepared to offer myself to stand against any charges the defendant might make, once we are both casters of Faq. For I agree with the aims of this Court. It is quite important to get to the truth, isn’t it?” She looked dispassionately at the defendant. “Let’s begin with testing the truth of her claim that she only wants to follow you.”
Jillian wished she could see Olive’s face from here. But whatever Banhammer was seeing in it seemed to startle him for a moment.
Then he narrowed his eyes and folded his arms on the bench. “Motion granted,” he said. “Overlady Olive Branch, I invite you to honor your words and pledge yourself to the Kingdom of Faq. What say you?”