Tower of Judgment
“I demand justice! This…This dog broke into my home and slept with my daughter!”
The entire court room broke out into a series of murmurs as the tall man, whom Ragnhildr knew as Kurtis, pointed fiercely, his eyes alight with rage, at a far younger man who stood in the center of the circular chamber, his hands in chains. The young man seemed to withdraw into himself as the accusation was made, looking around with frantic eyes.
Ragnhildr sat on her throne, carved from the tallest of the sacred ash trees, as she listened to the case before her. At first glance, it seemed hard to imagine that this young woman held sway over kings and nations, for she appeared scarcely beyond her twentieth year. Her braided blonde hair hung neatly over her shoulder, standing out brightly against the bluish gray of her armor. Her gloved hand lay serenely over the sword in her lap.
She waited until the murmuring had stopped, casting her gaze across the entire room, ushering the silent command of order to the room. When the people had stilled, she nodded her head in satisfaction.
“Is this true, Markus?” She said, turning her eyes to the younger man. He looked around skittishly, but didn’t immediately answer. Narrowing her eyes just a tad, she raised her voice to bark out an order. “Speak!”
“No, Lady Ragnhildr! I mean, well, yes, it’s true that I was with Rosaline, but I didn’t break into their house! She let me in through the back.”
“Liar! My daughter would never do such a thing!” Kurtis spat, rising from his seat once more. “And when I headed downstairs in the morning, I found the lock on the backdoor to my house broken! Not only that, but the money I keep hidden away in a drawer had been stolen!”
“I didn’t do it, you bastard!” Markus shouted back, as the people started to whisper amongst themselves again, creating a din in the tower. Ragnhidlr frowned slightly as the noise rose. It made it hard to think clearly and determine the fairest ruling. People came from far and wide, all across the former German nation, to have Ragnhildr oversee their cases, for she was known to be fair in her judgement. It did not matter if those standing before her were peasants or if they were rulers of the petty kingdoms that were rising. They all were equal before the paladin’s law.
“Is there a witness that can come forward to testify on behalf of Kurtis?” Ragnhildr asked to the crowd.
“I can!” A voice answered. “I saw that lout sneaking around their house that night! I’ll testify!”
A man similar in face though slimmer and shorter in build pushed forward. Ragnhildr recognized him as Harris, Kurtis’s brother and as such, the uncle to Rosaline. “Very well. Let us hear your testimony. Step forward and speak before Tyr!”
Harris moved to the center of the chamber, nodding to his brother as he passed. The two shared some words, but Ragnhildr was not paying attention to them. Rather, she was studying Markus. The young man seemed to be surprised, unsure of what to make of the appearance of this witness. He did not, however, look scared or angry. Just…confused.
“It was late at night, I had been walking back from the bar when I saw the boy skulking about my brother’s house.” Harris said, looking over to Markus. “I saw my niece, it’s true, but she wasn’t at the door. I saw her standing in the light in the kitchen.”
“What did you do when you, allegedly, saw Markus sneaking into your brother’s house?” Ragnhildr asked.
“I ran to the front and knocked on the door, wanting to alert my brother as soon as possible!”
Harris said, his face trying to hide a proud grin at his swift action. Ragnhildr looked down from her throne as he continued his testimony. “When he answered the door, I told him what had occurred under his own roof and we chased the boy out! He must have already had stolen the money before he fled!”
“I told you he was a thief and a scoundrel!” Kurtis called out, his voice echoing in the silent courtroom. Nobody spoke a word as Ragnhildr slowly rose to her feet.
“Mr. Harris Engelman, you are lying to me.” She said, softly, the acoustics of the room carrying her voice throughout the tower. She seemed as calm as ever, her tone not conveying an accusation but simply stating a truth. “You are insulting my god with your false testimony. Are you sure you wish to stay with this version of your story?”
For a moment, nobody said anything. Kurtis looked in shock at his brother, his mouth hanging open for a moment before his cheeks flushed red. His eyes narrowed as he stared at his brother. “Harry…You told me he broke into the house. We caught him there. Where’s the lie, Harris?”
Harris didn’t say anything for a while. “I…I withdraw my testimony…”
“I’m afraid it’s not quite that simple, Mr. Engelman.” Ragnhildr said. “I serve the God of Law. And I believe you have broken the law. Your story rang false when you said you ran to the front door to alert your brother. Mr. Kurtis, did your brother wake you?”
“Yes, I was sleeping when I heard him shouting.” Kurtis said. His voice and eyes betrayed his suspicion towards his brother. Ragnhildr kept her face free of any emotions as the divine sense granted to her by Tyr confirmed the validity of his claim.
“I do not believe that Markus stole your money, Mr. Kurtis.” Ragnhildr said as she sat back down on her throne. “I believe you need to ask yourself who really broke your door and made away with your wealth. That said…”
She raised her sword and pointed it at Markus, looking down at the rather quiet boy. “You were still a trespasser in Mr. Kurtis’s home without an invitation from him. As his daughter is still sixteen, I would wager that your intent was to sneak in and out without him knowing. That is trespassing and you will be required to pay a fine. Should you be unable to pay…I know that Mr. Kurtis’s orchards are in bloom soon. You will work off your debt.”
Sheathing her sword she placed her hands on both side of the throne. “That is my ruling. I wish you both luck and should you have another case to bring before me, Mr. Kurtis, regarding your missing funds…it will be heard.”
With that ruling, the doors to the tower were thrown open. Outside, the sun had begun to set. Ragnhildr had been there since the early morning, listening to people’s cases. The crowd waited for her to reach the exit before following her out of the tower into the fresh air. At once, she was set upon by all manners of requests. There were those who wished for her to handle their minor disputes right then and there, assuring her it would not take long. There were those who wanted to offer invitations to the young paladin to host her for dinner, and more.
Ragnhildr stood in the courtyard of her tower for over an hour, talking with the community that had been built around her home.
When she had first arrived at the tower that was now referred to as “The Paladin’s Tower”, there had been nothing else around it but the forests that had grown tall around it. It had come from another time and place, a relic that had been given purpose again.
It had seemed…surreal when she had first arrived at the tower. Ragnhildr had felt as if she had stepped into another world. She could still remember walking for what felt like days through the woods, searching for any place that had people or food for her to eat.
As she had stepped out from the trees into the clearing, she had come across this tall keep that seemed to reach to the skies. Ash trees circled the stone tower. As Ragnhildr had approached, she noticed the windows were stained glass, with what looked like an arrow pointing towards the sky filling the glass. Inside there had been an old man, sitting on the ash throne, a sword across his lap.
“Excuse me…” She had said. That was all she hand managed to get out, before the old man rose from his chair. As he did so, she had heard the howling of wolves outside the stone walls. A chill blew into the tower but from him came a warmth and a strength. She noticed he held the sword in one hand…for one hand was all he had.
“Come closer, child.” The god had said to her. As if pulled by a force, Ragnhildr found herself approaching Tyr. Tiwaz. Tiw. Ziu. It did not matter the name to her, for she knew in an instant before whom she found herself kneeling.
“Y-you are a king…”
“I was a king, once. Now, I am but a judge. As you shall be.” He had not asked. He had told her. “You are seeking a home, and I am seeking one with a will and a heart such as yours. The people have become scared; they have turned back to the old ways and it has given me strength once more.”
The old god extended a hand to her, pulling her to her feet. As she stared up at him in silent wonder, he had placed the sword in hand. “This will be your home. Be prepared, for word will spread quickly.”
Ragnhildr had barely had a chance to even ask “why her” before the doors to the hall were thrown open by the wind, and Tyr had vanished before her. She was alone, in her tower.
Word did spread quickly as the god had said. Not even a day after she had arrived, she had found travelers seeking shelter and guidance appearing at the door to the tower. Ragnhildr had granted them permission to stay and had served as a judge for their group, resolving matters they had been unable to face before.
That group had eventually continued onward in their quest for safety, but there were others after. Some traveled onward after they had stayed the night and had their cases settled. Others stayed and it was not long before a town had arisen around the tower. Ragnhildr had been asked to be queen, but she had always refused. She was a judge, not a ruler.
Still, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride as she looked down from the top of the hill where her tower was at the small town gathered at its base, built from the forest wood. All but the sacred ash.
Ragnhildr smiled as she locked the doors to the tower, before turning to the family whose invitation she had accepted for the night.
“We’re glad you accepted our invitation, Lady Ragnhildr!” The girl, Hannah, said excitedly as she gripped the judge’s hand.
“Of course. It’s been too long since I’ve had your mother’s chicken schnitzel.” Ragnhildr said happily. “I am honored to be invited at all.”
“Lady Ragnhildr! Ragnhildr!” Someone shouted from the direction of the village. Ragnhildr looked down the road to see a young herald from the court of King Tybalt, one of the many petty kings that had arisen in Germany, riding towards her.
“The court has finished for today, herald.” She said, a bit harshly. “If you have business, please…come in the morning.”
“But my Lady, it is a matter of the utmost urgency! My lord’s kingdom, it’s under attack! We need your help!”
“I do not get involved in politics unless a crime has been committed, sir.”
“A crime has been committed…A terrible bandit is passing through out lands! She breaks our paddocks, steals our food and drink, and brings calamity wherever she goes! She wears the face of a young girl but she’s a walking storm!”
Ragnhildr sighed. “Do you have a name for this terrible girl?”
“Torleif, my Lady! The champion of Thor!”
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9551?chapter=35&sl=764