Summer had stolen spring. Emma was convinced of it. Cooling down after tea on the patio required an entire hour. After such effort, she decided to find a suitable summer dress to replace the thick long-sleeved sauna she called a spring dress.
Maybe she should not have started training with her ladies this morning. The workout was unexpectedly intense. And she was not sure she saw the point. How could stance and position affect a fight. She learned no kicks, no punches. No contact at all. Just position, stance and breathing. It left her exhausted.
She barely made it to the throne room for her first appointment — a rotund bean farmer and a horse trainer. Next door neighbors, as it turned out. And none too pleased with one another.
Emma tried to listen, but her mind was still occupied by her training session with her ladies. Absently, she rehearsed the positions she had learned. Gurtie noticed and cleared her throat. Emma blinked and tried to catch up with the conversation.
“… and if he was any good at training horses, they would know better than to trample my beans. I had no choice but to chase them off before they did any further damage.”
The horse trainer, whose scowl had deepened as the farmer spoke, shook his head. “It has nothing to do with training. The only section of fence that’s bad is yours. If you maintained it properly, the horse wouldn’t have found his way into your field.”
The farmer opened his mouth to speak, but Emma raised her hand to silence him. She lifted a document from the top of a pile next to her. “I see the two of you have a history of this sort of thing.”
The trainer shook his head. “I wouldn’t say history exactly ….”
Emma frowned and held up the document. “History. Right here.”
The two men looked at one another, then back at Emma.
“Since both of you stubbornly refuse to do your part to protect your assets, you have no reason to complain about your losses. In order to spare the crown any further wasted time, my decision is that each of you shall be responsible to build your own fence. Your property is your responsibility. You must adequately protect it.”
The farmer’s eyes widened and he took a step back. “But … Your Highness! A new fence will cost too much money!”
For the first time, the horse trainer nodded in agreement with the farmer.
“Each of you has rejected the idea of building a fence, claiming the other is at fault. Both of you have sustained losses because of this missing barrier. The only fair solution is to make each of you responsible for your own fence.”
The trainer pointed at the farmer. “He’s the one sustaining losses because there is no fence.”
“Me??” The farmer pointed back and opened his mouth to argue.
Emma cut him off. “You have both sustained losses. You are both responsible. My decision is final. You may go.”
Silently, the two men stared at each other. After several seconds of hesitation, they turned toward the door and plodded down the aisle.
“Although …” Emma waited for them to turn around. “It is awfully expensive for each of you to have to build a fence. Perhaps I would allow you to pool your resources and build one fence.”
They looked at each other and nodded. “That would be preferable, Your Highness.”
“Good. You may speak with the man at the end of the hall to define the fence’s design. And once agreed upon, you will have two weeks to construct it.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Emma caught Gurtie’s approving smile. One down. She glanced at the pile of documents on the table beside her and suppressed a sigh. More than twenty to go.
An elderly man and a middle-aged woman entered next. Each dressed in a manner fitting the nobility. Emma picked up the next document and confirmed her assessment. The man, Geork, was one of Geoffrey’s few allies. But she also knew him to be crotchety, opinionated and generally difficult to get along with.
The woman, Benite, was one of the nicest shop owners in Zille. Everyone loved her flower shop. But she opposed Geoffrey and had opposed Derek as well. Primarily because the family had been commoners prior to Derek.
Great. Emma hoped the man’s claim was obvious. Otherwise, she might be forced to make a tenuous decision.
Benite began the proceedings, being the plaintiff. “Queen Emma, thank you for hearing my case. As you know, Geork’s shop is adjacent to mine. As any good shop owner would do, we both employ a certain amount of signage to attract customers. However, Geork has taken to positioning his signs so as to block my shop from view. The merchant code expressly prohibits this sort of behavior.”
“Your Highness,” the man intoned. “She is exaggerating the facts. My signs do not impede her customers, nor do they block the view of her shop anymore than a customer standing outside my shop would do. I have already discussed my signage with Geoffrey. Unofficially, of course.”
The woman scowled. “Off the books. How convenient for you. Nobody discussed any of this with me. If an exception was made, it should be on the books. Not that I would impugn the honor of King Geoffrey or yourself, ma’am. But I believe a ruler ought to uphold the code. If not, what is it there for?”
“Guidelines, of course.” Geork jutted out his chin.
As she reviewed the document, Emma raised a hand to silence the pair. Attached she found the relevant section of the merchant code. Absent was any indication of special circumstances. Maybe this one was not as difficult as it seemed. Except for the correct side not favoring Geoffrey’s alliances. She hoped Geoffrey had not offered any favors in this case.
Emma held up the document in her hand. “According to this, no exceptions have been made. Nor has anyone offered a reason for an exception. Given that, it seems quite simple to me. Geork, is the signage attached to your shop?”
“For the most part. Geoffrey has seen it.”
“Not lately,” Benite muttered quietly.
Emma narrowed her gaze at the man. “Either it is or it is not. Which one is it?”
Geork frowned. “Well, the end of it is attached to the shop.”
“And how far does the other end of it extend from your shop’s facade?”
“A few paces.”
Benite shook her head. “Try five or six.”
“Four at the most. If your legs are short.”
Emma nodded. “I see. The code clearly states ‘no more than two paces’, so even three would be against the code. And you have described it as no more than four, which is an admission of more than two. Between the statements both of you have made, I would surmise the distance to be close to five paces. This clearly violates the code and must be corrected.”
“But Your Highness,” the man regarded Emma with a condescending expression. “If King Geoffrey were here, he could clear this up. It has already been discussed. We should wait until he returns. I’m quite certain he would take my side in this case.”
Benite frowned. “And I’m sure a fair number of people would reconsider their opposition to the king if certain … concessions were made.”
“Enough.” Emma suppressed her anger as best she could. After a few seconds to make sure her voice was under control, she looked at each of them in turn. “I have made my decision. Geork will correct his signage to conform to the code. And if either of you dares to insinuate that I might pervert justice for political favors, I will have you thrown in the dungeon and your shop closed until further notice. Is that clear?”
Eyes wide and hands instinctively raised, both nobles took a step back and bowed.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“I meant no offense, Your Highness.”
Emma still saw defiance in Geork’s eyes. But Benite seemed not only pleased, but genuinely surprised by Emma’s threat. Was that respect showing on her face? “You may go.”
She pulled the next document off the stack and did not bother to suppress her sigh. She would be ready for bed before she got through the stack.
Twenty-two rulings later, she slumped onto her sofa. “Between making decisions and my training this morning, I think hearing all those cases was more exhausting.”
Gurtie smiled. “I know, dear. Nothing is more exhausting than listening to people who cannot settle their own differences. I’ve only had to perform that duty on occasion. It always took me a day to recover.”
“Then I think I’ll clear my schedule.”
“You did well. I cringe to think how a noble would have handled the first case with the farmer and the horse trainer.”
“And you did the right thing on the second case. It was too obvious to consider politics. But I should caution you on one point. You will have to play the political game at some point. So make sure you are paying attention to alliances and potential outcomes. Even in this case, you have made an enemy of Geork. It could not be helped. He had not even a sliver of ground to stand on.”
“I know. I wish doing the right thing always felt nice. It’s like pulling a dog off a cat. You know it’s the right thing to do, but you also know it’s going to hurt.”
Gurtie laughed. “Exactly. See? You already understand the concepts I plan to teach you. Everything you learned in your small town has prepared you for this. You only need to translate those lessons to the subtleties of the royal court.”
“That’s the difficult part.” Emma nodded and sat up from her slouch. “Everything has a double meaning. Or a hidden meaning. Where I grew up, people spoke plainly. And those who didn’t were scorned. Here, it’s the opposite. How something is said is as important as what is said. More sometimes.”
“You will do fine. You just need practice, and plenty of that is coming in the next month. Speaking of practice, how did your first training session go?”
Emma groaned. “I would never have dreamed that such a lack of motion could produce such sore muscles. I ache in places I didn’t know existed.”
“We must keep it secret. If the men folk find out you are exerting yourself ….”
“Oh I know.” Emma shook her head. “That concept is certainly no different from a small town. Pregnant women should sit in a chair and avoid exertion.”
“Complete hogwash, of course.” Gurtie sniffed. “But you will never convince them. So it is best to hide it. Even worse if they discover you are learning to defend yourself. The One forbid a woman should learn such a thing!”
Emma giggled. “I may need to find a better way to sneak around. Avoid detection.”
Gurtie produced a crooked smile. “Maybe that should be our next lesson.”