Episode 23:  The Verdict

Everyone in the Main Hall stood. Noshee’s legs felt weak like a couple of twigs. He knew what the verdict was. That did not mean he wanted to hear it, though.

Dena was the senior Elden of the province of Genai. She straightened her purple robe, official silks of the Eldens. She straightened her back. Her wings pulled in gently. And she looked right into Noshee’s eyes.

“This case isn’t about your past, or the circumstances surrounding why Chusee condemned you. This case is about whether you neglected Genaian researchers when you descended into Graywolf’s territory. To find out why he and his wolf pack have been needlessly attacking our people.

“This case is about whether you killed your former lover, Haiwee, whom you had an affair with, and her lover, whom you may have been jealous of.

“This case is also about treason. Your attack on Legionnaire Tosai, a warrior sworn to protect Destiny and her people, your home province, is puzzling.

“Given the evidence collected and your lack of to prove otherwise, we have no choice but to condemn you. As evident by your arrival to the Honeycomb today, there will be a long line of Hartons waiting for you. You will duel with family members of the victims until your death. If you do prevail, you are free to go. However, in the history of Genai province, none of the condemned have prevailed.

“As such, you will be given three days to heal from any wounds you may still have. You’ve suffered more than a lifetime’s worth in the small number of days you’ve been here. You will be allowed to write one final letter to your wife and daughter. On the day before your duel, you will be given one final request upon our approval.

“Do you have any questions?” Dena said.

A female scholar finished writing in her amber pamphlet. Her wings jiggled in the effort. The senior scholar at the other end of the oval table cupped the wooden ball, ready to end the trial. Noshee’s new found friend, Warlord Rorkai, leaned against the yellow washed walls. The other seven Eldens remained perched, silent. Their wings didn’t move.

“I do not,” Noshee said.

Noshee was taken back to the detention cave with little incident. Word had gotten out of his condemnation, and the victim’s family members seemed satisfied they’d have at him.

Noshee spent the next few days writing to his wife. Many iterations were scrapped, despite his effort to take a whole day to think through his words. His baby daughter couldn’t read, yet. So he had to make sure the letter addressed the lessons he’d learned. Hopefully, he’d be able to pass along some semblance of values, even if he didn’t live them earlier in life. Wasn’t that what parents did? Teach their children not to repeat their dreaded mistakes? So they won’t regret them every single waking day.

It was the night before the duel. Noshee still hadn’t completed the letter. A pile of amber paper lay on a small round table. His fingers were sore from writing. He had fought in the cage in many occasions. His father pushed him to embrace death in each duel. But nothing compared to the wave of emotions rolling between fear and sadness. Tomorrow would be his last day of life. And these awful letters were going to be a replacement father to his daughter? An apology to his wife? A dedication of his love to them both?

The iron door smashed open.

The guardian to Noshee’s detention cave barged in. His wing pointed at Noshee. “I told you he was here.”

Warlord Rorkai and Elden Dena entered the detention cave. Candlelight shimmered off their purple silks. Dena pulled up her sleeves. Rorkai tied his long, dirty blonde hair into a plait.

“Take off your clothes,” Rorkai demanded.

“Excuse me. What?” Noshee said.

“Please. Quickly,” Dena said.

“What is this about?” Noshee said.

“Noshee!” Rorkai called out.

Startled, Noshee untied the linen cord that laced the front of his vest tight. He did the same with his silk pants, dirtied by the cave. Rorkai brought a torch close to Noshee’s skin. Close enough to singe. Noshee's lanky arms and legs, and wing's webbing glowed yellow in the darkness. Shadows of his rib cage moved with the torch.

“What are you looking for?” Noshee said, feeling a bit self-conscious.

“He didn’t do it,” Rorkai said.

“No,” Dena said. “It appears not.”

The guardian crossed his arms and pouted.

“I did not do what?” Noshee asked.

Rorkai looked at the senior Elden. She nodded. “Chusee and Tosai were going to take a trade ship back to Destiny province tonight. The winds were strong, so the captain decided to set sail. I sent a warrior to fetch Tosai. Elden Dena and I went to get Chusee. She was staying at Dena’s office at the Honeycomb. When we entered the Main Hall, Chusee was found on the oval table, dead.”

“And you assumed I did it,” Noshee said, looking at the slimy cave.

“We needed to rule you out,” Dena said. “You had the motive.”

“Her claws were filled with blood and flesh. She’d fought whoever killed her,” Rorkai said.

Noshee gazed at his body and dressed himself. “No wounds. A first since I arrived.”

A warrior in purple silks entered the cave. He bowed to Rorkai and Dena. “We found the culprit at the forest floor, my Warlord. His throat was ripped out. Wings and body were broken falling from the canopy. And we found this.”

Rorkai received a crumpled message. Blood penetrated the amber fibers. He opened and read. “Chusee has failed me. Kill her.”

“It seems you are freed of your condemnation,” Dena said. “But the families may think otherwise.”

Choose your poison: Does Noshee leave and escape revenge? Or should he stay and find out what happened to his accuser?

100% of the readers chose to find out.