Small Folks Court

One of the things I learned in Law School: Clients will never tell you the whole truth. People want you to like them. It’s just in their nature. This gets worse when they’re in legal trouble. They’re secretly afraid that their lawyer will judge them, and decide to turn on them, if they knew what was really happening. Lawyers have done some very unpleasant things, all to make sure they never appear to be working against their clients. There are men in jail unjustly today because a lawyer didn’t betray his client. And despite all of this, clients lie to their lawyers. I studied the short, red-haired man with large, bushy eyebrows, sitting across from me. “So. When were you going to tell me you’re a fairy?”

His eyes widened, his mouth opening, his back straightening. “How did you-?” Also something clients did. Everyone thought police could read your mind, but they never expected a lawyer to do the same. I looked around my office. The doorknob was silver, for devils. It tarnished if they touched it, usually. The humidifier in the corner had holy water in it, which was good for keeping my lips from cracking in the winter, and had an adverse effect on the undead.

(It was depressing how many undead lived in this city. Not surprising, though.)

“The two chairs. One’s iron, the other’s wood. I saw the look you gave the iron-frame chair. Plus, you’ve got a strong Gaelic accent, you’re four feet tall, and you’re wearing red with gold buttons, in a style that’s at least a century out of date. I’m guessing you’re a leprechaun, but that may be profiling on my part.” Stereotypes could be helpful among the supernatural. From what a friend had told me, it was all about telling a story. If you fulfilled the stereotypes of the story, then you were stronger. People had expectations, and when you fulfilled those expectations, they believed in you. Not much different from humans, really. The only thing making me a lawyer to this man was the sign on my door.

The fairy sagged with relief. I recognized that, too. The client who has realized his lawyer already knows his dark secrets, and has finally found someone who is not just able to, but required to keep his secrets. Having a lawyer is great for the client’s peace of mind. It also explains the high rate of alcoholism among lawyers. “Aye, lass. I’m a goldsmith, and a cobbler. I’m in a mighty kettle of trouble, lass.”

“Atina LeRoux. You can just call me Miss LeRoux.” The leprechaun looked surprised, bushy red eyebrows lifting. “I’m trusting you not to use my name for anything unpleasant.” There was a kind of power in giving someone else your name. A name could be used for some very unpleasant things by a fairy. That gave him an obligation not to misuse it, and better yet, it meant he owed me the same in return. If a human’s name was something strong to the fairies, it was nothing compared to what a human could do with a fairy’s name. Besides, using euphemisms tired me out.

“Willow McBrine, ma’am. Got to say, your hair looks more black than red to me.” He held out his hand. I took off the iron ring I wore around my middle finger, before shaking his hand. “I was sent here by a friend of mine. Don Chaufani. The poncey Sidhe said you helped him with a public urination charge.” I nodded, frowning. The Sidhe had been a prick and a half, but he had paid me, and the money hadn’t turned back to acorns and leaves at the next sunrise. “I’m… I’ve got real trouble, Miss LeRoux.” The leprechaun’s eyes welled up. “They’ve accused me of counterfeiting! The King’s going to have me clapped in irons!”

I raised an eyebrow. As my frequent use of the metal may tell you, fairies have a notable allergy to iron. Much like human beings have an allergy to superheated rock. “Wait… Counterfeiting? A fairy is being punished for counterfeiting?” I frowned “Isn’t fairy gold generally fairly well-recognized? It’s not even a crime to attempt to pay someone in it. And it’s surely not a death sentence.”

“No, ma’am. It was my pot of gold. I…” The fairy stopped, embarrassed. “Well, I don’t know how much you know about leprechauns…”

“You’re looters. The pot of gold is treasure buried on battlefields, generally. I have studied Fairy Law. Trust me, I’m not going to judge you poorly for what your people do. I’m your lawyer. I’m here to defend you. Now, start from the beginning. Your pot of gold.”

“Aye. Well, it’s not always a pot of gold, Miss LeRoux. In my case, it was a Bauble.” He pronounced it with a capital B. “A mighty powerful one. You’ve heard of Love’s Labor’s Won?” I raised an eyebrow, suitably impressed. “Aye. An English Noble carried a copy during the War of Two Kings. He was brought low, and the play almost destroyed by the elements. I saved it before it could be ruined. A first edition, a prized folio. Powerful stuff. Times have gotten rough. I was forced to sell it, to one of the high nobles of court, Earl Breyn of Vestal. When I delivered it to him, the man claimed it was a fake, and it was. It must have been stolen, switched out for the real thing, Miss LeRoux, but I’ve given a false Bauble to an Earl- He’s having me tried in front of the Court!”

I leaned back, frowning. Historical value aside, a Bauble was something like a currency among the Fairies. Some source of great ideas, imagination, or focus. A nexus of human thought, the very stuff that Fae fed on. They made Fairies powerful. Of course, they were more valuable to someone who was already strong- It was a wonder McBrine had held onto it for as long as he had. It would make some sense that such a powerful artifact would be the target of jealousy. But that was someone else’s problem. I needed to focus on the salient details of defending him. “Which Court? We’ve got all four in Binghamton. If it’s the Summer Court, I know an Iron Knight I can refer you to, but-”

“Fall Court, ma’am.” I sighed with relief. Each of the courts had their own trials. None of them involved traditional litigation. The Summer Court were big on blood-sport, the Spring Court liked poetry and music, the Winter Court generally settled things with a silent knife between the second and third ribs. But the Fall Court did riddle contests. I could deal with a riddle contest. “The trial’s in a week, on the night of the waning half moon.” I nodded. You never got more than a month before a Fairy trial, which were based on the cycles of the moon. They weren’t big on due process. The only supernatural creatures I’d met who believed in due process were demons.

“Alright. Here’s what you need to know. The King’s Man will be one of his underiddlings.” Yes, I know. I didn’t choose the titles the Fairies use.” The more guilty you are, and the larger the crime, the harder his riddles will be. I think I can beat him, but that’s not your real problem. Whoever did this to you set you up, and I doubt they’re going to leave things to chance. If you’re not found guilty, you’re a loose end.” I could see the fear growing in the leprechaun’s eyes, and gave him a smile. “But. I have a plan. I can’t promise you anything, Mister McBrine. But I’m going to do everything within my power to make sure you’re safe.”

The leprechaun nodded, rubbing the tears out of his eyes, relief obvious in his features. “Thank you, la- Miss LeRoux. I’m mighty grateful for all you’re doing. I’ve got a fair pot of human money stored up over the years. Never had much use for it, but I’ll be happy to pay whatever you ask for.” I nodded.

“My fee is eighty-five dollars an hour for research and litigation. I’d anticipate this running somewhere in the neighborhood of forty to fifty hours.” The nice thing about being a lawyer to a fairy is when they pay, they pay well. “And one last thing… Why have you come to me, instead of one of the Champions of the Fairies?”

“I… Well, I fear I don’t have anything they would value. All I have is this store of mortal money, and it would do me no good. I have no other choice.”

I nodded. It was the same story I usually heard. The only supernatural creatures who came to a human for legal help were those with absolutely no other choice. Not many human beings knew the laws of the supernatural world, and fewer still were any good at playing by the rules of the immortals. They were mostly wizards of various kinds at the local college, who considered a legal education an affront to their dignity. After we’d hashed out the negotiation and I’d gotten the retainer, I saw him to the door, and returned to my desk, staring out the window.

Binghamton is what you’d call a crossroads. The supernatural has always been drawn to human places where travelers frequent. I’ve heard three reasons for it. First, people are always coming and going. In a crossroads, strange people can go unnoticed, because everyone’s strange. Second, things get caught up in a crossroads. The supernatural acts like the opposite of a magnet, attracting more of itself. I guess like a graviton? Damn, it had been a long time since physics class in High School. The point was that supernatural creatures wound up staying where they found other supernatural creatures.

And third, there was power in travelers. The creatures tapped into that, like the supernatural equivalent of a watermill, turning mortal energy into magical power. Whether that was by drinking the blood of vagabonds, or sinking hooks into their souls, or whatever else. Supernatural creatures, as far as I’d met, almost all relied on humans in one way or another. Sort of like humans rely on domesticated animals.

After getting out of law school, I’d started looking for a job. I’d worked contract attorney work for huge firms that paid nothing until I was ready to pound a spike into my skull. Eventually, out of sheer frustration, I’d moved up from New York City to Binghamton, and put out my shingle, offering my legal abilities to anyone who was of a mind to try me. It had been slow, and student debt had been piling up.

Then a pale Asian woman with quite bad arthritis for someone so young had come into the room, and made me an offer to defend her in front of a court of people who met at midnight. After spending nearly a year doing document review, I’d have let her bite my throat if she was paying a fair wage. She’d paid me well to defend her on a charge of the murder of a human man. Shockingly, she hadn’t been guilty. Since then, well, like attracted like. They paid well.

The fact that I lived my life as a paranoid, filling my office and home with as many defenses against the supernatural as I could, was just part of the cost of doing business.

And no, New York City is not a crossroads. I’d asked quite a few of my clients about that over the last few months since I’d started this. Every one of them had told me they avoided New York City because of “predators”. They didn’t elaborate, and frankly, I didn’t want them to. Most of my clients are the kind of things humans tell scary stories about. I’d prefer not to find out what they fear. I shrugged my shoulders uncomfortably, and frowned.

Fear was such an unusual thing. Not something I was accustomed to. I was not a small woman. In any sense. In point of fact, I’d been teased about my height throughout most of my life. I was taller than most men I met, which always made things awkward. Combined with a tendency towards being antisocial, and a difficulty caring about scholarship, I had barely scraped my way through law school. That was probably why I spent these long nights in my simple, undecorated office.

That, and the lingering concern that one night, walking home, sharp teeth would clamp into my throat as I went around a corner. It was rather like being a mob lawyer, but with slightly less garlic. I didn’t like to go back to my small home when the sun was down, and with the hours I worked, the sun was usually down. So instead, I read riddle books and ate Shark Belly fish sandwiches from the nearest fast food joint, spending the nights in my office.

The Fall Court system is fairly simple. Riddles are shared, back and forth. The first to fail three riddles has lost. In the case of the King’s Man- something like a prosecutor- this means their best riddles may have been exposed and they are embarrassed. In the case of the Champion- something like a defense attorney- their client suffers. The format also explained some of the peculiarities of the kind of questions asked. If the King or the King’s Man was not particularly bothered about the outcome, they would choose simple, easily answered riddles. The Fall Court loved their secrets, and if someone guessed your best riddle in front of a full court, that riddle became useless. It was almost like a wagering game, tempered by mutual knowledge and cleverness.

The rules were simple. Any question could be asked, so long as someone present knew the answer, and the one being asked a question could figure out the answer. No ‘What have I got in my pockets’ moments. I sighed, and kept reading. It reminded me of studying for the Bar, except a great deal less terrifying. The week passed quickly.

On the morning of the waning half moon, I got up from a solid sleep in my own bed. I left a kettle on the boil while I stepped into the shower, putting myself back into order after a week of isolation, shaving and generally trying to look like I had a social life. As the kettle whistled, I dried my hair and stepped out of the bathroom, pouring the hot water into a thermos full of green tea bags. Fully dressed, I opened the door, and jumped an inch when I found Willow McBrine standing outside, in a very fine red velvet jacket. He looked rather taken aback by my jumpiness. “My apologies, miss. I thought I should meet you here. You know the way to the Fall Court, yeah?”

“It’s fine, Willow. Just… didn’t expect to see you at my door.”

“Sorry, miss.”

I’d never visited the court, but I did know it. The old Inebriate’s Asylum, up on the hill, was the home of one of the main entrances to the Fall Court. Nobody had secrets like madmen, and nobody shared secrets like drunks. I wasn’t clear on the details of traveling between the worlds, but with McBrine’s help, I’d be fine. Getting out was always the hard part, which is why I carried the old iron cross on my neck. I didn’t believe in Christ, but I certainly believed that three pounds of iron with a good heft could hurt any fairy I’d choose to name. It was a somewhat aggressive move, but I didn’t have any powers. No special abilities. No magic. I’d lived this long by not trusting fairies.

I parked the rental car at the foot of the hill, under the shadow of the asylum. The two of us walked up, slipping past the fences that proclaimed it unsafe, and telling people not to enter. The empty hallways of the asylum clicked under my dress shoes. I didn’t wear heels, partially because I hated the way they felt, and partially because I absolutely did not want to look taller than I already was. The plastic and detritus of renovation stood around us as we walked. “Just remember. Keep quiet, let me ask and answer the questions. With any luck, things will go fine.”

We stepped through a doorway. And then we were no longer in the asylum.

Each of the courts has a different aesthetic. The Summer Court favors sun, sand, and stone. The Winter Court likes its metal and ice. The Spring Court is notoriously fond of flowers and gardens. The Fall Court, however, was the most traditional. We stepped through the doorway into a dark forest. I took out the old Coleman lantern I kept for cold winter nights. Its merry flames flickered into life with a soft hiss, sending bright light across the gray ash trunks. The two of us walked through the skeletal trees, following a barely visible path into the night, across the bright fallen leaves.

Fairies have good night vision. Humans don’t. What we have is fire. It tells the things in the night where we are, a screaming declaration to the world of our presence, our existence. And that frightens the predators. Fire tends to work on almost everything supernatural, if you use it right. As we approached the court, I could hear the murmurs of the fairies. We stepped out into a great clearing. In the center stood a statue garden.

I’d heard about the statues. I hadn’t expected them to be so creepy. Moss grew on some of them. Others were clearly fairies, holding poses. They all seemed vaguely affronted at the intrusion of light into their world, but I continued to walk without shame, towards the center of the clearing. Two great stone thrones sat there, surrounded by a dozen smaller thrones, the nobles of the court. Around them were countless other fairies. And in the center were two lecterns, low things of dark wood.

It’s important to note this was not THE Court of the Fall Fairies. That was somewhere in Ireland. This was one of the lesser copies. It still had a King, a Queen, Earls, and so forth, but they were not the most powerful of their kind. They could still have flayed me alive and do all kinds of unpleasant things with my entrails, though. I set the Coleman lantern down on one of the two pedestals, and shut it off. Darkness rushed back to fill the clearing with a soft hiss, like sand pouring through an hourglass.

“I am here to act as Champion to Willow McBrine. I am mortal, and bear no contract to the Fairies, and stand with this iron cross, as is my right.” I reached into my shirt, and took the cross out. It wouldn’t win friends, but the fairies respected people who knew their laws. “If any should dare to declare me unfit to serve as champion, say it now, so I can shove this down your throat.”

“You are not in the Summer Court, child. You need not show false bravado to keep us from cutting out your throat. You are an enigma. That is enough to guarantee you safe passage. And please… Call us the Fae. Fairies sounds so… storybook.”

It hadn’t been any of the fairies arranged around the circle who had spoken. It was the man who now stood opposite me. Well, the male. He was skeletally thin, and nearly eight feet tall. His arms, legs, fingers, all seemed to have an extra joint in them, folding in disquieting ways. He wore a white mask over his eyes and nose. Featureless, with golden eyes painted where the eye-holes should have been. His mouth was full of sharp teeth, and his skin was the kind of blue you get from frozen flesh. I stood straight. “Just making sure we know where we stand. I hope I haven’t given any offense.”

The king stood up. He wore a pair of stag’s horns on a head band. Or they might have grown up through the band. It was hard to tell with fairies. “The Leprechaun Willow McBrine has been accused of counterfeiting of a Bauble. If he should be found guilty, he is to be clapped in irons. Half-Faced Man, begin your interrogation.”

There was a soft hissing. I realized it was the Half-Faced Man drawing breath.

“What has roots as nobody sees
Is taller than trees
Up, up, up it goes
And yet never grows?”

I paused for a moment, raising an eyebrow. “A mountain.” There was a slight murmur of surprise. I didn’t hesitate, though, simply launching into my riddle. “Faking a bauble is a difficult task. It requires substantial power, especially to even momentarily fool a Noble of the Fairy courts.” I put a little extra emphasis on Fairy, just to twist the knife. “Willow McBrine does not possess this power, does he?”

There was a brief spate of argument among the watchers. It was far from a traditional riddle, but it didn’t break the rules of the contest. The Half-Faced Man looked taken aback, and glanced towards the King. A strange expression on his face, the stag-horned fairy nodded his head. “No. He does not,” said the Half-Faced Man. He frowned, and shrugged, before continuing with his next riddle.

“Thirty white horses on a red hill
First they champ
Then they stamp
Then they stand still”

“Teeth.” I answered nonchalantly. The fairies around the circle muttered angrily, and the Half-Faced Man looked slightly annoyed. Fairies tend to be somewhat predictable. They’re not generally good at coming up with their own riddles, so most of them steal from elsewhere. “There are very few people in the court who could fake the Bauble. Who could manage it?” I had my suspicions. But thankfully, I didn’t need to know the answer. Someone in this room did- The Half-Faced Man, for one. The Half-Faced Man frowned, the mask creasing around the eyes.

“The King or Queen could. Earlen Wen of Johnson City, or Earl Breyn of Vestal.” He narrowed his eyes.

“Voiceless it cries
Wingless flutters
Toothless bites
Mouthless mutters-”

“The wind. Now, is there bad blood between Earl Breyn and any of these others?” The Half-Faced Man gritted his teeth, and didn’t speak. “Do you not know? Is that my first victory?”

“There is… a great deal of enmity between the Earlen and the Earl. Their borders lay close together. They vie for power.” The Half-Faced Man drew himself up. Leaves rattled as he spoke, a wind whipping through the skeletal forest.

“It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after, ends life, and kills laughter.”

“Darkness. Now, I know Fairies do not stay with the same court all of their life. Is the Earlen an immigrant from another court?”

There was a slow, dark look on the King’s face. The Half-Faced Man nodded. “Yes. She hails from the Winter Court, and joined us five years ago. She is… known for her subtlety.” The Half-Faced Man seemed distracted, now, as he spoke his next riddle.

“A box without hinges, key or lid
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.”

“Eggs. Now, is it possible the Earlen has recently showed some increased power? Perhaps made some unusually aggressive moves politically, tried to infringe on the territories of other?” I could see a foul expression on one of the women in the court, a woman with hair like silver filigree and eyes like steel orbs. I gave her a brief, polite smile.

“Yes.” The Half-Faced Man frowned. “Why do you ask questions to which I know the answer?”

“To remind you that you already know the answer. You seem to be taking it easy on me with that riddle.” I smiled up at the King. “I am sure that you can see where I am going with this.”

“I do not care.” The king’s voice was deep, his expression dark. “You have given me much to think about, human. But if you do not have better questions, your client will be clapped in irons. It is not enough to suggest he did not commit the crime he is accused of. You must also win.”

“Oh, how silly of me to forget. What is the next number in this sequence: 313, 331, 367…”

There was a moment of silence. The Half-Faced Man opened and closed his mouth. “376?” he hazarded.

“Wrong.” The Half-Faced Man’s mouth tightened.

“No-legs lay on one-leg
two legs sat near on three legs
four legs got some.”

“A fish on a one-legged table being eaten by a man on a three-legged stool, and the cat gets the bones. Now, there are five houses in five different colors. In each house lives a person with a different nationality. These 5 owners drink a certain beverage, smoke a certain brand of cigarette, and keep a certain pet. No owners have the same pet, brand of cigarette, or drink. The Brit lives in a red house, the Swede keeps a dog, the Dane drinks tea, the green house is on the left of the white house-” This continued for quite some time, as the Half-Faced Man stared, his mouth tight. “The question is, who keeps the fish?”

“The Brit-”

“Wrong.” I smiled as the fairy narrowed his eyes.

“This thing all things devour-”

“Time,” I stated, before he could even finish. “What do you call a fish without eyes?”

The man paused. A slow, luxurious smile spread across his face, and I felt a little moment of panic. If he decided to stop insulting me, he might win. Very slowly, and deliberately, his eyes moving towards the King, he responded, “No idea.” I breathed again, relief flooding me.

“A fsh.” I smiled towards the King. “I believe that is an acquittal.”

The court dispersed, dark mutters mixing with laughter as I gathered up my things. Willow McBride and I made our way into the forest. I became aware that we had become separated only when I turned, and found he was no longer at my side. The darkness had closed around me. I reached for the Coleman Lantern with one hand, and the iron cross with the other.

My hands didn’t make it to either. A wolf-like creature appeared out of the darkness in a blur, slamming me against one of the trees. I was strong for a human, but that just didn’t cut it. My wrists were pinned to the tree, as metal-capped teeth gleamed in the night. The slavering jaw opened wide, wider, approaching my face. This was the moment I had feared. Not being strong enough. Offending the wrong person. I wasn’t any good at fighting. I hadn’t expected such a sudden, violent reaction, which was stupid on my part. My professors probably would have taken a certain pleasure in knowing I was going to die because I hadn’t done my due diligence.

Then there was a soft sound like wet suede being torn in half, and the creature let out a choked cry, flecks of blood falling from its jaws. It dropped to the ground, a rusty iron knife in its side. The Half-Faced Man stood behind the creature, smiling. “How did you know the answers to all of my riddles?”

“I…” I breathed, the mortal terror fleeing me, leaving me shaking slightly. This wasn’t the first time I’d been threatened. It never got old, though. “They were all from The Hobbit.”

“That book is from the 1930s. Half of those riddles weren’t in the movie.”

“So?” I asked, slightly stung, flushing. “Lots of people have read that book. It’s a classic.” The fear of losing my life was being replaced by a certain embarrassed annoyance. Damned arrogant fairies.

“You have a good taste in books. And in riddles. I still do not know what the next number in that sequence was. Though Fsh… That is a good one.”

I paused a moment, and then relaxed. The contest was over. The Half-Faced Man had just saved my life, and it seemed a bit unlikely he’d had all this planned just to get closer to me and learn some new riddles. “Thank you. I’ll tell you the trick behind them, if you’d like.”

“A gift of knowledge? To a bested opponent?”

“You just saved my life, it seems only fair.” I smiled.

“Too true. It appears I will soon have another trial.” The Half-Faced Man frowned. “I must warn you, however. The Earlen will not be easy prey. And she is… vindictive, as winter so often is. You may have bitten off more than you could chew by making such a vicious enemy.” He looked down at the body.

I shrugged, suppressing a shiver. “It wouldn’t be the first time.” Then, I stopped, a frown spreading across my features. “The last question I asked… You looked like you knew the answer. Why didn’t you say it?”

The Half-Faced Man laughed, and tapped the mask, fingers rattling on the closed porcelain eyelids. “I know a thing or two about lacking eyes. And I supposed I was interested. You had wit and daring. And it would be a terrible shame to cut that down before it has a chance to blossom. There’s no fun in destroying young things. Why do you think I asked questions you might know the answer to?” His sharp-toothed smile flared in the light of the Coleman lantern as it burned to life.

“Don’t suppose a charming Fae like you would feel like splitting a pitcher of beer after a case well-argued?” I asked. The question seemed to surprise him. Then, he nodded.

“That sounds… quite appealing. Thank you.”

Another thing I learned in Law School. It never hurts to have friends in high places. I looked down at the wolf-man corpse as Willow McBride stumbled out of the darkness of the forest, profusely apologizing, and the three of us walked out of the court.

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