In a life where everything was assured and predictable, where even a mind could be forced into obeying order, Aleja felt lost. The countless judgments Aleja memorized since she was a child were of no use. As far as Aleja knew no one seeking justice had ever rebuked the Queen’s judgment.
Aleja had to make a decision. For the first time in her life as a Judge, Aleja realized it must be her own.
“Give him the death that took my son from me.”
The Caretaker's spiteful words rang in Aleja's head like the clanging of iron bells. Aleja felt she must say something, anything, if only to quiet the sound and give herself a chance to think.
Aleja looked into the Queen’s blank, unfeeling eyes carved into the wall across from her.
If you will not give me the answer, must I find my own?
Aleja prayed the stone face would answer her, if only to break the silence of the amphitheater. But the cold visage gave her no comfort, and no response.
“Very well,” Aleja swallowed hard, then stood up, “If this man is of no use to you, he cannot fulfill his duty to the Queen, therefore…this Daughter condemns him to die.”
The young man fell to his knees and held his hands out to Aleja.
“How can this be?” He cried. “You cannot do this.”
The crowd echoed the man's words, only more loudly, and with palpable anger. This time the crack of the Guardians' staff had no effect in quieting them.
Aleja looked at her guards. They were young and strong, with the swirling tattoos of the kraken's tentacles running down their arms, but did not carry the daggers of those who had been tested by the hardships of the Wastes.
Would they have the strength to subdue this crowd?
Aleja moved between her guards, and filled her lungs with air.
Aleja's voice tore through the amphitheater like a herd of charging horses. The crowd, now silent, stared at Aleja as if they couldn't fathom how this girl, who looked little older than a child sitting in the great stone chair, could have a voice of such power and authority.
Aleja waited before she spoke again. Only small birds, fluttering through the ivy covered columns behind her, dared utter any sound in the face of Aleja's withering stare.
“If you will not take this man as your son, then you will be free to live with vengeance in your heart and silence in your home.”
Aleja walked down from the stage as she spoke. Once on the floor Aleja placed her hands on the Caretaker's shoulders.
“As you have said, this man must be given the death that took your son from you. So this Daughter decrees that, when the sun rises, you must go to the place where your son died, climb a ladder, stand above this man, and fall on him.”
A look of confusion came over the Caretaker's face.
“And if he does not die, “Aleja continued, “then you must climb the ladder and try again. You must do this, again and again, until your justice has been done.”
The look on the Caretaker's face changed from confusion to disbelief.
“Or,” Aleja's voice filled with a compassion that was both practiced and sincere, “you may accept the Queen's judgment, take this man as your son, and let him warm your heart and home.”
When the Caretaker said nothing, Aleja feared what the crowd would do if she failed. But after a long and painful silence, and with head cast down, the Caretaker spoke.
“I accept the judgment of our Queen. I will take this man as my son.”
Cheers erupted throughout the crowd. For a moment, amidst the shouts of praise to the Queen's mercy and wisdom, she thought she heard the crowd calling out her name.
I am just a Daughter. They should give no praise to me.
Aleja's heart raced. But whether it was from the fear of hearing her name or the exhilaration of it, Aleja could not tell.
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